32 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.
33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34 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,
35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. (New Testament, Acts, Acts 4)
We read in the New Testament how the Early Christian Saints lived will all things in common. We know that something must have happened to this United Order because mainstream Christianity doesn't seem to live this way today. Christians live the law of tithes and offerings but not this communal living.
This United Order was attempted in more modern times by the Pilgrims at Jamestown Colony. In fact the failure of the Pilgrims to live this United Order and their reversion to the law of tithing is the Thanksgiving story. The Early LDS Saints also attempted to live the United Order with measured success and look to reinstitute it more fully in the future in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.
[the following analogy is not mine but from an LDS friend]
However, if you ask most LDS to define the United Order they will say, "the United Order is a system where if your neighbor is an unskilled janitor (a building engineer is highly skilled labor) and has 14 kids and you are a skilled doctor and have 2 kids then you each give all your money to the bishop and the bishop then redistributes more of the wealth to the unskilled janitor because of his greater need."
Of course, the conservative "personal responsibility" crowd will cry out and say "you mean to tell be that if I sacrifice my whole life to learn a highly skilled trade, that my eternal reward is to labor the rest of my life to continually and unendingly bail out everyone else who carelessly idled their time away, buried their talents, squandered their inheritance, and lived irresponsibly? Is that my reward and I am supposed to feel the spirit about that?"
Look at Cuba. When Communism took over, all industry and production stopped. My father-in-law visits Cuba regularly and says the place is like stepping back in time to 1959 when Castro seized power. Except instead of being frozen in time everything is slowly falling apart into decay and disrepair. There is no incentive by the people to develop their talents and engage in productive enterprise because they know the Cuban Government will oppose them, persecute them, then seize their wealth and their enterprise for themselves in the name of "redistribution" for the good of all Cubans.
The United Order is supposed to help me want to consecrate. I don't see how "involuntary income redistribution" helps me want to consecrate. You can claim a religious-based system is "voluntary" but if my faith community alienates or ostracizes me more not playing by the rules, how is this not coercion?
42 Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 42)
Today in church someone made a great comment about needing to be willing and open to rethink a lot of what believe politically and socially. But then he casually equated the LDS Law of Consecration with Communism. Again, while I think most LDS concept of the United Order fits along the lines of "income re-distribution". I do not think this is a complete view of what the United Order is all about. But, if all I had to go on was Acts 4:35, I think I would think along these terms as well. But thankfully the Lord reveals more about His United Order and consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants.
The United Order is NOT Communism, NOT Socialism, and it is NOT Capitalism either. Despite what the media says, Capitalism is not free market. We don't need the unelected crony capitalist to decide and NO I did not vote with my dollars in this rigged system. The United Order recognizes and respects property rights, is 100% voluntary, 100% free enterprise, and 100% Constitutional.
which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 42)
7 Nevertheless, inasmuch as they receive more than is needful for their necessities and their wants, it shall be given into my storehouse; (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 70)
The Doctrine and Covenants clarifies the idea that Christ's Church should care for one another not just according to everyone's needs but according to our wants. "Wants" has huge implications and is NOT a trivial detail when it comes to understanding consecration and the United Order.
When we talk about the United Order we usually give a sigh and say, "you can't live the United Order in a society with both righteous and evil living together so we will have to wait for a day when God separates the wicked from the righteous." The reason a mixed community cannot live the United Order is because the takers soon inevitably outnumber the producers. This is exactly what happened in Jamestown Colony leading to its repeated failures until they recognized property rights and reverted to tithing. (everyone wanted to look for gold and no one wanted to produce the food) This taker/producer mismatch is also currently happening in the now bankrupt Socialist US and European welfare states .
I don't disagree with the idea that a mixed society of righteous and wicked makes consecration difficult, but I do not think it makes it impossible. First, let me clarify that consecration is the personal commitment and covenant that an individual makes with God. The United Order is an economic system (eg capitalism, communism, free-enterprise, hunter-gatherer, cottage-barter, Ayn Rand meritocracy, virtue-ocracy, etc) that helps the community to live consecration. But an individual does't have to live under the United Order to consecrate. The purpose of the United Order is to help people consecrate not make it harder..
I think it is possible to live the United Order with righteous and wicked. In truth, we are all wicked. If we were all righteous we would all be taken up to heaven like Enoch and Elijah and we wouldn't need to be talking about economics. In fact, I think like in Enoch's city of Zion, the United Order was the mechanism by which the wicked and righteous were separated.
I say, righteous and wicked, but what I mean is willing vs. unwilling. I suppose in Enoch's Zion, the unwilling voluntarily left and only the willing remained. The willing through the process of living consecration becoming increasingly sanctified, perfected and holy until they were eventually translated and taken up into heaven. The United Order through Christ separated and then transformed the willing wicked into willing righteous.
So, how is the United Order supposed to work if it is focused on caring for wants and not just needs? There is nothing for satisfying than investing in someone and seeing them grow and develop. On the other hand, there is not anything more discouraging than to continually bail someone out just to see them continue the same destructive behavior. When it comes to the United Order, the program is to not make people dependent on and slaves to the system but lift them up and return them to profitability and self-reliance. Dependent slavery is Satan's plan not God's.
Going back to the skilled doctor vs. unskilled janitor analogy: if the unskilled janitor has 14 kids, he is going to need to take personal responsibility, get some skills, provide some skilled labor and value to the economy, and then earn some money to provide for those children. The United Order shouldn't be about endlessly passing out fish to the idle, unskilled, and unproductive but about teaching people how to fish so they can feed themselves and support their families.
In an economy with a traditional apprentice, journeyman, master craftsman system, instead of giving you my fish all the time, and instead of making you my employee/slave and my dependent. I would rather make you my apprentice, invest in you and teach you to be a doctor (or skilled building and facilities engineer) and turn you into my equal, my partner, my colleague, my neighbor, and my friend.
Then as a doctor or other skilled professional, if you have the desire, and are willing to put in the work and make the sacrifice, you can fish for yourself. Then you can buy the mansion next to my house and be my neighbor and be wealthy and productive with me.
When it comes down to it, the spiritual rewards and emotional satisfaction at investing in and seeing someone progress is so much more rewarding than anything else I could possibly think to buy with that money.
Case in point: A friend shared with me his conversion story and talked about the mighty change he has seen in his own life and how thankful he is to the missionary who sacrificed the time and money to come out from Utah to Georgia to knock on his door and share the gospel with him. We were talking about consecration and I told my friend that I am sure the Elder that taught him enjoyed great satisfaction at seeing his spiritual independence. I would guess that that missionary considers the time and money he invested in my friend to be worth more than anything else he could possibly think to buy with the money.
In this spirit of serving each other's wants and needs, both the giver and the receiver get what they really wanted and rejoice together. On the other hand, In a socialist or communist welfare system, the dependent takers feel entitled to what they take and the producers mourns over what they feel has been unfairly taken.
With a Constitution that teaches a separation between government and religion, providing charity and teaching virtue is the role of religion and not the government. Therefore government needs to get out of the business of religion.
19 Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 82)
The LDS Church practices the United Order itself as an institution more according to Acts 4:35. In the LDS Church there are no rich churches and poor churches. There are only small branches working to grow into a full-seized congregation. When a congregation is big enough it is divided into 2. But while my local congregation may not have the best catered food or entertainment at our Christmas party, the tithing money given at my local church is distributed throughout the world so that LDS members in the Dominican Republic (for example) can attend church in just as nice of a building and have access to a beautiful Temple just like me here in Georgia.
I have been to some fancy parties at other Churches. But I would rather have hum-drum Christmas parties at my Church and I would rather clean and vacuum my meetinghouse every few months instead of paying for a janitor if it means someone else in can have access to an LDS Temple in Brazil or the Philippines or wherever.
But instead of having to continually subsidize the world, I would rather the 3rd World eventually learn to fish. Unfortunately, the political atmosphere which is controlled by the US makes this nearly impossible at the moment. So, we will have to continue to pass out the barley loaves and fishes for the time being.
I don't want to claim to understand the United Order. It's not my job to explain it to anyone. If it ends up being eternal income redistribution, fine, I'll submit to it with spirit over natural man resolve. This point doesn't affect the testimony I do have that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. But I can't help but think that when the perfect social order is instituted we all will look at each other and say, "there is so much joy here, why didn't we just live this way from the start."
I feel we DO have an absolute responsibility to take care of everyone's basic needs regardless of merit or circumstances. It is actually a surprisingly inexpensive endeavor to satisfy basic needs (this is one great secret). My local stake president calculated if the entire stake paid only 1% of their income for fast offering, the welfare needs of the Stake would be satisfied. However, when it comes to wants, then it becomes an issue of teaching someone to fish. If they want it enough then there needs to be the freedom of opportunity for them to achieve and obtain what they really desire.
21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. (Old Testament, Isaiah, Isaiah 65)