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Sunday, October 11, 2020

When the Church Breaks One of its Own Laws

I believe almost all people know Murphy's Law ("If anything can go wrong, it will"). This is actually known as Murphy's Law #1. 

What most people don't know is that there are more laws than that. [1]  Here are a few you may not be aware of:

Murphy's Law #4: If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.

Murphy's Law #6: If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.

Forsyth's Second Corollary to Murphy's Laws: Just when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, the roof caves in.

The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.

Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don't have any film.

He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

The church has several laws in it as well. We have the Law of Chastity, the Law of Tithing, the Law of Consecration, the Law of Obedience, the Law of Adoption, the Law of the Harvest, the Law of the Gospel and the Law of the Fast. Even the Word of Wisdom has been described as the Lord's Law of Health [2].  In the case of Chastity, Tithing and Health, these are pretty strictly enforced by the church.

However, there is one law that is not strictly enforced. What makes this more ironic is that it's mentioned in the scriptures several times. It is the word of God, it is the will of God, it is a commandment of God. Yet it is a neglected law of God.


According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie, the doctrine of common consent is actually a law: 

"Administrative affairs of the Church are handled in accordance with the law of common consent. This law is that in God's earthly kingdom, the King counsels what should be done, but then he allows his subjects to accept or reject his proposals. Unless the principle of free agency is operated in righteousness men do not progress to ultimate salvation in the heavenly kingdom hereafter. Accordingly, church officers are selected by the spirit of revelation in those appointed to choose them, but before the officers may serve in their positions, they must receive a formal sustaining vote of the people over whom they are to preside." [3]

Sure enough, the law of common consent "has been operative in every dispensation." [4]   For example, it was active (in one form or another) during the lifetimes of Moses [5], Joshua [6], Samuel [7], Mosiah [8]  and Peter [9].

As part of the restoration, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation in April 1830 regarding Church organization and government "which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to His will and commandment, we should proceed to organize His Church once more here upon the earth." [10]    In that revelation - now known as D&C Section 20 - we learn that:

"No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church." [11]

Three months later, in July 1830, the Lord specified that the vote of the church encompasses more than just the approval of its leaders: 

"all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith." [12] 

(Note: that's "all things." Church officer sustainings? Yes. Policies? Yes. Major decisions? Yes. Acceptance of new scripture? Yes. Other things that affect the lives of the Saints? Yes. How our tithing dollars are used? Yes.)

"Not only are Church officers sustained by common consent, but this same principle operates for policies, major decisions, acceptance of new scripture, and other things that affect the lives of the Saints." [13]

In September, 1830 (two months later), the Lord reinforced this command when Hiram Page attempted to receive revelations for the church:

"For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith." [14]

(See those words "shall" and, two months later, "must"? That's tantamount to the Lord saying that common consent IS a law which the church should not break).

These revelations became a foundation to the government of the Lord's kingdom and defined the order of proper Church procedure.

The Doctrine and Covenants is filled with more arrows pointing to the law of common consent. Some examples include:

  • The role of revelation and common consent, which was revealed in September 1830. [15]
  • Members who were appointed to service to give relief to the poor and needy or to leadership positions within the Church organization were appointed by "the voice of the church". [16] 
  • The disposition of tithes and offerings ("And there shall not any part of it be used, or taken out of the treasury, only by the voice and common consent of the order"). [17] 
  • Church callings. [18]

Two other latter-day historical events highlight the importance of the law of common consent and how it interrelates with the doctrines preached, taught and perpetuated among church members:

  • The Discontinuation of Plural Marriage: With the unanimous approval of Official Declaration #1, church members declared their intention to submit to laws enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages.  As President Lorenzo Snow stated:

"I move that, recognizing Wilford Woodruff as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the only man on the earth at the present time who holds the keys of the sealing ordinances, we consider him fully authorized by virtue of his position to issue the Manifesto which has been read in our hearing, and which is dated September 24th, 1890, and that as a Church in General Conference assembled, we accept his declaration concerning plural marriages as authoritative and binding.

The vote to sustain the foregoing motion was unanimous." [19]

  • Extending the priesthood to all worthy male members: This significant change in priesthood membership and administration was effectuated by the approval, by the body of the church, of Official Declaration #2.  President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, presented the Declaration to the body of the church for ratification.  He stated:

"Recognizing Spencer W. Kimball as the prophet, seer, and revelator, and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is proposed that we as a constituent assembly accept this revelation as the word and will of the Lord. All in favor please signify by raising your right hand. Any opposed by the same sign.

The vote to sustain the foregoing motion was unanimous in the affirmative." [20]

In both cases, an historical precedence was firmly established: changes to existing doctrines (which presumably include anything categorized as a scripturally-based "standing law" unto the church) require the sustaining of the church's members.


When we examine the history of the church, we begin to see that in implementing the law of common consent, a preliminary decision was made (for example, a person was proposed for a calling, or a tentative budget was presented). Then members were given the opportunity to accept or reject the proposal. [21]  If a proposal was rejected, it was back to the drawing board. To avoid exercising control, dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, no consequences or retribution was given the member for an opposing view. [21]

That's pretty much a thing of the past now. Opposing views precipitate an immediate meeting in the stake president's office, and those meetings aren't particularly warm and fuzzy. 

Yet another a trend has also surfaced: the law of common consent is rarely mentioned and adhered to in the first place. 

By my (admittedly very inadequate) historical research skills, it all began in 1844, less than a month after Brother Joseph's death. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued an official proclamation for members to immediately pay "a tenth of all their property and money…and then let them continue to pay a tenth of their income from that time forth." 

This was a monumental deviation from Law of Tithing which was revealed six years earlier, in which the Lord gave a "standing law" that the saints should be "tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually." [22]

In instituting this new doctrine, the twelve never once produced a revelation from God for the members to review and prayerfully contemplate. To date, no one has seen the actual revelation which reversed the Lord's "standing revelation," and no one has ever been asked to offer a sustaining vote changing that scripture.

Since then, the Law of Common Consent has kind of conveniently become forgotten and ignored. And to most members, that's OK, because we have our leaders, making the church the "church of the latter-day leaders" instead of the "church of the latter-day saints." Here's what two members said online:

"Common consent in the Church is not a grassroots kind of principle."

"There are just too many daily happenings within the Church that can not be voted on. This is, IMHO, the reason the Lord has chosen good men to be our leaders. As a whole, although some may err, I believe they are doing the Lord's work on the earth today. And isn't that what common consent is….the majority. I doubt that they all agree on every proposal brought before the 15, however, I believe that when they walk out of a meeting, they are in agreement that this is what the Lord wants done at that time. I don't have to agree ( as you have chosen not to do), but I can still sustain them in their callings because I know the Lord has guided them in those decisions."

And sure enough, that's the unwritten order of things today. Here's former Seventy (and now mission president) Matthew O. Richardson:

"This privilege of voting is more an act of ratifying leadership callings and decisions rather than actually making those decisions. Such decisions are left to the Lord and His anointed servants." [23] 

I believe Brother Richardson is telling the truth. We members are no longer involved in having a say in the church's "administrative affairs".  The application of the law of common consent to "all things" by members is no longer applicable. We have no explanation as to why the law of common consent has been non-existent for a long time in the church. 

If it was in play/practice, would we have a multi-billion dollar mall in downtown Salt Lake City? Or plush million-dollar condos? Or hunting preserves in Nevada where rich men can pay big money to hunt big game for sport? Or 3% of the land mass in Florida?


You'd be hard pressed to say this is what church members have been wanting. 

Nowhere do I find in the scriptures that its OK for members to abrogate their responsibilities as members to their leaders. If you can find the scripture, please send it to me. If you can find the revelation, please send it to me.

Moroni reminded us (four times) that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He does not change His mind on eternal truths, just to tease or test us.

As far as I can tell, the Lord never said, "And all things shall be done by common consent by the church's leaders." He said, "And all things shall be done by common consent in the church." He wants church members to participate in the decision-making process, because it gives them ownership of the doctrine, policy or sustained leader - and for all the good or bad that brings with said decision:

"If the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time the judgements of God will come upon you." [24]

Over time, we've seen a lot of other doctrines and laws evaporate away. Are these "things that affect the lives of the Saints"? Definitely.

Were they subject to approval or disapproval via the Law of Common Consent? Definitely not.

Will I be addressing each one of these doctrines and laws in future posts? You better believe it.

"If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,

And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;
Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.
And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee." [25]

"Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.
Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.
Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them.
Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it."  [26]


Based on the aforementioned facts, I have the following questions:

  • How is the church’s ongoing neglect of the Law of Common Consent NOT making this the church of the “latter-day administrative leaders” instead of the church of the “latter-day saints”?
  • When and how did the Lord declare that it was OK for the saints not to directly have a say in “all things” regarding his church?


3   Mormon Doctrine, p. 149-50
4  Bruce R. McConkie, Common Consent (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, n.d.), p. 4.
5  Exodus 24:3
6   Numbers 27:19-22
7  1 Samuel 8:7
8  Mosiah 29:25-26
9  Acts 1:26
10  History of the Church 1:64
11  D&C 20:65
12  D&C 26:2; emphasis mine
14  D&C 28:13
15  D&C 20:63, 65, 66.
16  D&C 38:34-35; 41:9-10; 51:4, 12.
17  D&C 104:64, 71-77.
18  D&C 42:11; 102:9; 124:124-44.
19  D&C Official Declaration #1.
20  D&C Official Declaration #2.
21  D&C 121:37
22  D&C 119:4.
23  "The Law of Common Consent (D&C 26)",
24  Mosiah 29:27
25  Deuteronomy 13:1-5
26  Jeremiah 6:16-19

1 comment:

Latter Day Truths said...

Times and Seasons has a new post concerning the Law of Common Consent. You can read it here: