Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Dangers of Riches and Inequality

There are quite a few examples in the scriptures of people who lived by the covenant of consecration. Some of these examples are very straight forward, others are a bit more implied. But they all shed light on the importance of the law of consecration and the principles it contains.
Christ taught the apostles the principles by which they were to live as members of His church. And these apostles then taught the people those same principles. It is apparent that one of these principles was the law of consecration. Sometime after Jesus's ministry and post-resurrection visits to his apostles, Luke tells us that many people believed and were baptized. He explains:
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
"And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
"And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
"And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." (Act 2:41-45)
Based on everything that has been shared in this article to this point, it should be quite obvious what is meant in verse 44 and 45 here. They had "all things common", "sold their possessions and goods", and distributed to those in need. I think it is interesting to note that those who followed the teachings of Christ and the apostles were able to do what the rich young ruler could not. If you recall, the Lord asked him to "sell all that (he) hast, and distribute unto the poor…" (Luke 18:22) (we discussed this in some detail in PART 6).
Luke continues in describing the saints, or those who believed in the words the apostles taught and followed the teachings of Christ. He says:
"And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
"And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
"Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
"And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." (Acts 4:32-35)
Again, they had "all things common." And I think it is important that Luke noted that "neither was there any among them that lacked." And why did they not lack? Because those who possessed more sold the manifestations of their wealth and gave the money to the apostles, who then distributed "unto every mans according as he had need." These words are very straight forward and incontestable.
I imagine it was about the same time these saints were practicing this important law in the Old World, that the saints in the New World were being taught the same principles and were being blessed beyond measure for doing so. In relaying the account of his early ancestors who walked and talked with the Savior (as recorded in 3 Nephi chapters 11-28), Mormon says:
"And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.
"And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them." (3 Nephi 26:19-20)
Again, we have a people that lived with "all things common among them." And why did they live in this way? Isn't it great that the next scripture gives us the answer. The people did "all things even as Jesus had commanded them." They lived after this manner, because the Lord taught them to. This should not come as a surprise, considering all we have learned from the scriptures so far, regarding the Lord's directives concerning the covenant of consecration. Near the end of PART 10, I asked the question, "How important is the covenant of consecration to the Lord?" I think the answer is obvious. And I think it is very fitting that both groups of people that the Lord taught, in the Old World and the New World, set about living by this law or covenant.
Mormon goes on later to describe the wonderful circumstances under which his ancestors then lived for upwards of 160 years. He explains:
"And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
"...And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land; but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.
"...And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
"And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
"There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God." (4 Nephi 1:3,13,15-17)
I can't begin to imagine living under such glorious circumstances. How amazing it must have been! As I read these words, I cannot help but yearn for the day when this will be the situation once more. Again, we are told that they "had all things common among them," but it is followed by the equally important phrase, "therefore there were not rich and poor…" It wasn't a matter of who had earned more, or who deserved more. They all saw themselves as equals, or beggars before God, as King Benjamin taught. And they all shared accordingly.
If you recall, it was often recorded in the Book of Mormon that their sins of "pride…because of their exceeding riches", "inequality", and "setting their hearts upon their riches", were at the core of a host of other sins including murdering, lying, stealing, and committing adultery (See PART 4). However, here in 3 Nephi and 4 Nephi, we have record of a people who did not allow these sins of pride and inequality to exist among them, simply by living the principles of the law of consecration. And what was the result? Exactly the opposite–"There were NO envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness." According to Mormon, these people were happier than "all the people who had been created by the hand of God." Is it any wonder that the Lord tried over and over again to have the saints of the restoration live by this covenant? Look at the fruits of doing so. It seems to create a virtual heaven on earth. And this is how Zion is established. I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but I feel compelled to ask once again, "How important is the covenant of consecration to the Lord?" Is it any wonder why it is so crucial? Is it not clear and plain to see?
Unfortunately this utopian society did not continue indefinitely. And by Mormon's day the people had degenerated into such wickedness, that Mormon was left to exclaim in sorrow of the "continual scene of wickedness and abominations", and the "awful brutality" and "depravity of (his) people" that were "without order and without mercy." (see Mormon 2:18 and Moroni 9:17-18) One might ask, how could a people so blessed and happy, fall so far? Mormon asked a similar heartbreaking question. After beholding the immense destruction of his people that "were once a delightsome people, and they had Christ for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father" (Mormon 5:17), Mormon asks, "O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!" (Mormon 6:17). So what is the answer? Where did it all go wrong? Back in 4 Nephi, Mormon tells us:
"And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.
"And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.
"And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ." (4 Nephi 1:24-27)
Their utopia, their Zion, crumbled because they discontinued living by the covenant of consecration. It seems that the consequences, good or bad, are fixed upon this important law. Live by it, and find peace and happiness. Don't, and you will have sorrow and sin.
I am grateful for the additional information we have in Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible, including the book of Moses. For instance, this book sheds a lot more light on the ministry and life of Enoch and the people who lived during his time. I enjoy reading about Enoch receiving his call from the Lord, and the progression in Enoch's ministry as he put his faith and trust in the Lord. When the Lord told him to prophesy unto the people and command them to repent, Enoch said, "Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?" (Moses 6:31) The Lord told him to do as he commanded and that the He would help him in his task. We read later of a much more confident Enoch who had faith in the power of God's word:
"And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him." (Moses 7:13)
This man who felt that all the people hated him and that he was "slow of speech" was now speaking the word of the Lord with such power that nature obeyed, and all nations feared. And those who followed Enoch and the Lord were protected from their enemies and blessed immensely. Again in the book of Moses we read:
"The fear of the Lord was upon all nations, so great was the glory of the Lord, which was upon his people. And the Lord blessed the land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish.
"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 7:17-18)
I think it is significant that we are told here that the people of Enoch "were of one heart and one mind." In PART 9, we saw how the Lord often reminded the saints of the need to "be equal" or "be alike" (see D&C 51:3,9; D&C 70:14; D&C 78:5-6; D&C 82:17). If you recall, in one of these injunctions to the saints regarding the covenant of consecration, the Lord said:
"And let every man deal honestly, and be alike among this people, and receive alike, that ye may be one, even as I have commanded you." (D&C 51:9)
So we are to be "equal" or "alike" so "that (we) may be one." Luke told us that all those who followed the apostles and the teachings of Christ "were together" and"were of one heart and of one soul." Similarly, Mormon told us that his ancestors who lived in peace "were in one." Now here in the book of Moses, we read once again that that the people of Enoch were likewise "of one heart and one mind." This, combined with the fact that they were called "Zion" by the Lord and "there was no poor among them," clearly indicates that Enoch's people were living the law of consecration. Remember, after the saints of the restoration failed to live this law, the Lord indicated to them that "Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom." The saints failed to do so. Enoch's people succeeded, established Zion, and God walked with them, dwelt with them, and ultimately received the city of Enoch or "Zion" unto Himself.
In PART 2, we talked a bit about Alma (the older), who believed the words of Abinadi, repented of his sins, and helped to establish the true gospel again. After leaving their wicked lifestyle under the reign of King Noah, the people must have felt a need to be re-baptized as a covenant and sign of their commitment to follow Christ. Previous to their being re-baptized, Alma taught the people:
"...Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
"Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
"Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?" (Mosiah 18:8-10)
Mormon continues in telling us of Alma's teachings towards his people:
"…And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another." (Mosiah 18:21)
Remember all the references regarding being "equal", "alike", and being "one". Alma gives us a great description here regarding this directive to be "one". His people were described as "having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another." He also directed his people to "bear one another's burdens, that they may be light," and "mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort." Can you think of a better description of being "one"? And all this was part of their covenant they made at baptism. What better way to begin this community of love and solidarity, following their baptism, than by living the law of consecration. Remember, I said at the very beginning of PART 8 that the covenant of consecration goes hand in hand with the covenant made at baptism. Alma seems to have understood this. And this unified way of thinking and living was very contrary to the system that had been set up under King Noah that was built on greed and pride, of which they were all to familiar; A system that should be all to familiar to us also, looking around at all the selfishness, greed, and inequality in the world today.  Regarding Alma and his people, Mormon elaborates further:
"And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.
"And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.
"And this he said unto them, having been commanded of God; and they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants." (Mosiah 18:27-29)
These scriptures should have a very familiar tone to them, in relation to all that we have learned so far in this article. Once again we see the infamous mandate to "impart of their substance". And once again, they were to give "according to that which (they) had." We have already talked about this idea. But I think it is interesting and worth pointing out that Mormon gave a great follow up description here, in relation to this directive from Alma. He says: "If he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given." Sounds very much like the law of consecration and what the saints were taught by the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants.
And why did Alma teach these things to the people? Was it simply because they were tired of living under the reign of King Noah, and realized there was a far better way. It goes much deeper than that. The answer is in verse 29. Alma taught the people to live after this manner of unity and love, bearing one another's burdens, and imparting of their substance, because he had "been commanded of God" to do so. Remember Mormon's words concerning the people mentioned in 3 Nephi and 4 Nephi that Christ had taught. He said that they had "all things common among them", they were all "partakers of the heavenly gift", and there was "no contention" among them because of the "love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people." (4 Nephi 1:3,15) And how was this possible? Because they "did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them." (3 Nephi 26:21) I hope it is very clear by now after all that has been shared, that this is God's plan. This is his way. This is the intended design for his children, in this life and after. And it CANNOT be achieved without this covenant of consecration. We are fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.
Something else I want to mention regarding the baptismal covenant to "bear one another's burdens." Think about this directive for a moment and it's relation to the law of consecration. Is poverty a "burden"? Is hunger or starvation a "burden"? Do these things create unnecessary hardship, worry, and pain? If we were to truly live by our baptismal covenant and bear other's burdens, would we allow these things to exist among our friends and neighbors, in our community, or even our country or the world? Are we really living up to our most important covenants if we live in affluence and prosperity while allowing others to suffer? These are some sobering questions, but ones that we all should be asking ourselves. I sincerely believe we will all be held accountable for how well we did or didn't live up to our covenant to "bear one another's burdens," inasmuch as we were able to do so. Remember again the parable of the sheep and the goats, and what was of most value? What is it that the "sheep" did that merited "inherit(ing) the kingdom"? (see Matthew 25:31-40)
There are less prominent examples in the scriptures of the Lord's people living by the law of consecration. Due in part to the diligence and teachings of Alma (the younger) and Amulek, we read that there was a time among the Nephites when "there was no inequality among them." (see Alma 16:16). Also, there was a time before this, when Alma (the younger) was the chief judge among the Nephites, in which the more righteous segment among them lived by these principles. Mormon tells us:
"And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.
"…and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need." (Alma 1:27,30)
Once again we have the two phrases, "impart of their substance" and "according to that which he had." In addition to everything we have already discussed in this article, I think there is something else here worth mentioning. Mormon explains that they helped everyone, regardless of whether they were members of the church or not. I cannot believe Christ would feel any differently, for "all are alike unto God." (see 2 Nephi 26:33)
I think it is highly probable that the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi also lived by the law of consecration. Mormon describes these Lamanites, who were converted to the gospel through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren. He says:
"...And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end.
"...And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord." (Alma 27:27,30)
In PART 7, we talked about the Zoramites who were taught by Alma, Amulek, and others. If you recall, a great part of the Zoramites had their hearts set upon their riches and their "hearts were lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride" (see Alma 31:25), whereas the poor among the Zoramites "were esteemed by their brethren as dross", and were "despised of all men because of their poverty." (see Alma 32:3,5) What I didn't share was the rest of the story. The "more popular part of the Zoramites" (see Alma 35:3) found out who believed in the words of Alma and Amulek and then cast them out of the land. These rejected people came over to the land of Jershon where the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's lived. Mormon tells us how they were received:
"...they did receive all the poor of the Zoramites that came over unto them; and they did nourish them, and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance; and they did administer unto them according to their wants." (Alma 35:9)
They didn't just help the poor of the Zoramites with their needs but also their "wants". They even gave them their own lands for inheritance. In other words, they treated them as their own. Combining the description of these people's great "zeal" and perfect "honesty" from chapter 27, with their actions towards the poor of the Zoramites in chapter 35, I think we have a good candidate of a people that understood and lived by the law of consecration.
We all know the story of the young men from this group of people who fought valiantly under the command of Helaman and were miraculously spared (see Alma 53 and Alma 56-58). Recall all that we have learned of the importance of the law of consecration, and the blessings received by those who live by such principles. If the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's lived under such a covenant and truly treated others as Jesus taught, once they were converted (as it seems they did), is it any wonder they had such amazing faith that they passed on to their children. Truly, they were a "highly favored people of the Lord." (see Alma 27:30)
If you recall, in PART 5 we talked about the blessings established for the poor and how they would trust in Zion. Remember, Nephi quoted Isaiah as saying, "…the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it." (2 Nephi 24:32; see also Isaiah 14:32) And when speaking of our baptismal covenant to "bear one another's burdens," I asked the questions, "Is poverty a burden? Is hunger or starvation a burden? Do these things create unnecessary hardship, worry, and pain?" Does perpetuating the greed, pride, and inequality in the world create distrust and conflict? Of course it does. We all know that it does. In contrast, when looking at the examples of those who were able to effectively apply the principles under which the law of consecration is established, what was the result? There was peace, happiness, unity, and love. Is this not "Zion" as spoken of in the scriptures? And wouldn't any true follower of Christ seek to establish this Zion, if these were the fruits of such? And lastly, is it any wonder that the poor will "trust" in Zion?

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