John A. Tvedtnes
“I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27)
Latter-day Saints reading this commandment typically think that it means we must all believe and think alike and be united in our actions as a Church. While these are worthwhile goals, and certainly the Lord desires for his people, that is not the context of the passage, as can be seen from the verses that precede it:
“And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself. For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there-and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:25-27)
The passage clearly refers to the law of consecration and stewardship, in which all participants are treated equally, “every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs” (D&C 51:3; see also D&C 82:17). Under that law, it was the bishop who was to receive consecrated property and deed to each family what was needed (D&C 51:3-8). The Lord added, “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).
One Heart and One Mind
The concept of being “one” is found in other scriptures dealing with living the law of consecration and stewardship. For example, in Moses 7:18, we learn that the people in Enoch’s city of Zion “were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them.” The “Zion of Enoch” is mentioned in the same revelation that commands us to “be one” (D&C 38:4). Enoch is also mentioned in D&C 45:11, a revelation in which the Lord instructs the Latter-day Saints, “And with one heart and with one mind, gather up your riches that ye may purchase an inheritance which shall hereafter be appointed unto you. And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God” (D&C 45:65-66).
The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of Genesis 14:33-38 informs us that Melchizedek and his people in the city of Salem (which means “peace”) “sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken,” and that Melchizedek was a high priest and “keeper of the storehouse of God; Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.” The wording is reminiscent of the Lord’s instructions about the duties of the bishop, in which he said that surplus consecrated materials “shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council; And for the purpose of purchasing lands for the public benefit of the church, and building houses of worship, and building up of the New Jerusalem which is hereafter to be revealed” (D&C 42:34-35; see also D&C 70:7-11; 72:9-15).
The Christians of the time of Christ’s apostles are said to have been “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 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” (Acts 4:32, 44-45). In his epistles, the apostle Paul reminded people to be of “the same mind toward one another” (Romans 12:16; 15:2, 5-7; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 1:27; 2:2-5). The apostle Peter also wrote, “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:8). Even some of the Old Testament prophets admonished the Israelites to be of “one heart” (Jeremiah 32:39; Ezekiel 11:19).
The Book of Mormon also stresses the importance of the Lord’s people being of one mind and one heart. Prior to his death, Lehi admonished his family to “be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity” (2 Nephi 1:21).
Some Book of Mormon groups lived the law of consecration and stewardship. In Alma’s day, “when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength. 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” (Alma 1:26-27).
Addressing the people assembled at the temple in Zarahemla, King Benjamin commanded, “And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due . . . And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish” (Mosiah 4:13, 16).
Following Christ’s visit to the New World, his followers “did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another” (3 Nephi 26:19), “and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. 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” (4 Nephi 1:2-3). Over time, however, “they had become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ,” some becoming “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 1:23-26).
Equality Among the Saints
In D&C 78:3-7, the Lord explains that the “storehouse for the poor of my people” in Kirtland (Ohio) and Zion (Missouri) were designed to bring about equality among the Saints: “That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things.” In D&C 82:17-19, he commanded, “And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just-And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church-Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.”
From passages such as this, we see that the Lord uses the term “equal” in the same sense as being “one.” Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld” (D&C 70:14). “Wherefore, let my servant [Bishop] Edward Partridge, and those whom he has chosen, in whom I am well pleased, appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs” (D&C 51:3).
In no human endeavors do people work together better than in the family. Genesis 2:24 declares, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (also quoted in Matthew 19:5-6; Mark 10:7-8; Ephesians 5:31; D&C 49:16). Paul, commenting on the passage, wrote, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church” (Ephesians 5:28-29).
The family is where we learn to love, to share, to help. If we cannot live together in unity in the family, it will be considerably harder to live in unity in other groups. An ancient Hebrew Psalm declares, “Behold, how good and how pleasant [it is] for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). The apostle Paul condemns those who do not take care of their families: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8). King Benjamin admonished his people, “And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another . . . But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:14-15).
Husband and wife are to see to each other’s needs and wants and those of their children. “Verily, thus saith the Lord, in addition to the laws of the church concerning women and children, those who belong to the church, who have lost their husbands or fathers: Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken; and if they are not found transgressors they shall have fellowship in the church. And if they are not faithful they shall not have fellowship in the church; yet they may remain upon their inheritances according to the laws of the land. All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age. And after that, they have claim upon the church, or in other words upon the Lord’s storehouse, if their parents have not wherewith to give them inheritances. And the storehouse shall be kept by the consecrations of the church; and widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor” (D&C 83:1-6).[i]
The Church is like an extended family, which is why we call each other “brother” and “sister” and pray to “our Father which art in heaven.” The apostle Paul wrote of “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14-15). He further admonished that, “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:2). Paul taught that the various officers of the Church were to remain “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Alma1, having organized a church among the Nephites, “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. And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God” (Mosiah 18:21-22).
Unity is also expressed in the term “united order,” by which the various groups practicing the law of consecration and stewardship were denominated (D&C 104:1, 48). It was a lack of this unity that caused a delay in the establishment of Zion in Missouri. Only members of the Church who had consecrated their properties to the Church were allowed to settled in Zion, but selfishness interfered in the progress of that settlement and other united order groups. Explaining the expulsion of the Saints from Jackson County, the Lord declared,
“But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them; And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom; And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself” (D&C 105:3-5).
[i] See also “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” 23 September 1995, posted on the web site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.