3 Nephi 26:17-21
17 And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And many of them saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written.
19 And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.
20 And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them.
21 And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ.
In these short verses, Mormon has laid out the conditions that are the foundation of a Zion society, and summarizes its necessary components.
1. “The disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them.” Moroni tells us the qualifications of those who were baptized:
2 Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
3 And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end (Moroni 6:2-3).
2. Their government was a theocracy. That is what the Savior established on the first day he came to the Nephites, and there is no reference to any other form of government until their apostasy. Then those who called themselves Lamanites had a king (Mormon 2:9), but there is no mention of any political leader among Nephites. Mormon was their religious leader, and he calls himself “a commander and a leader of this people” (Mormon 3:11), but that seems to be a military designation rather a political one.
3. “They who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ.” We know very little about how that church operated or how it was organized, but Moroni suggests it worked very much like our own:
5 And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
6 And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus (Moroni 6:5-6).
4. “As many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost.” The phrase “filled with the Holy Ghost” has a powerful meaning in the Book of Mormon. In my discussion of the Beatitudes in 3 Nephi 12, I pointed out the steps between being “visited by the Holy Ghost” in verse 2 and being “filled” in verse 6. Two of those steps are making and keeping temple covenants.
5. A Zion people follow the Brethren — “the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them.”
6. They also received individual revelation: “many of them saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written.”
Not only did they see and hear wonder things through personal revelation, but their scriptures taught them things we do not know. Moroni reports that their scriptures included the full account of the revelations to the brother of Jared.
1 And the Lord commanded the brother of Jared to go down out of the mount from the presence of the Lord, and write the things which he had seen; and they were forbidden to come unto the children of men until after that he should be lifted up upon the cross; and for this cause did king Mosiah keep them, that they should not come unto the world until after Christ should show himself unto his people.
2 And after Christ truly had showed himself unto his people he commanded that they should be made manifest.
3 And now, after that, they have all dwindled in unbelief; and there is none save it be the Lamanites, and they have rejected the gospel of Christ; therefore I am commanded that I should hide them up again in the earth (Ether 4:1-3).
7. They were concerned about each other: “they taught, and did minister one to another.” That was, no doubt, expressed by personal friendships, but also by care that was organized by the Church. Moroni reports:
4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith (Moroni 6:4).
8. They lived the Law of Consecration: “they had all things common among them.”
9. They did all this of their own accord and seem to have been under no external or legal restraint, with “every man dealing justly, one with another.”
10. “And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them.”
This Nephite system survived intact for four generations. However, similar attempts by other believers did not last at all. An important question is, “Why did this one work while the others failed?”
After the Savior’s resurrection, the New Testament church appears to have been like the one described in 3 Nephi. Luke reports:
42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:42-47).
31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
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 (Acts 4:32-35).
However, in the very next chapter, he also tells us that there were those who tried to cheat the system.
1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things [Then his wife also lied and also died.] (Acts 5:1-11).
This incident of cheating was probably not the only one. There are other examples of discontent among the members of the church. It is likely that the failure of the New Testament Zion society was caused from avarice and bickering within as well as pressure from outside the church.
The same thing happened in Missouri when the LDS Church attempted to create a Zion society there. Greed on the part of some of the people, including some of the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, destroyed the system from within.
The same thing eventually caused the Nephite system to collapse. We are told at the beginning of 4 Nephi:
3 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 1:3).
24 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.
25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.
26 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 1:24-26).
It appears that the Law of Consecration — or rather the violation of it — is the Achilles heel of a Zion society. In the New Testament and in Missouri, a Zion community was attempted among people who were not Zion individuals. Some took advantage of the generosity of others. Covetousness blossomed and the system died from internal rot.
“And thus we see” that a Zion society only survives when each individual is himself a “Zion.” Then the culture can prosper as an association of such individuals.
Today, there is an untold number of persons in the Church who each live the Law of Consecration as individuals. But they do it quietly and privately. They give according to their ability and according to the needs of those who receive. All of the members of the Church are not that way, but many are, and others are becoming that kind of persons. So there is, within the world wide Church, a Zion community made up of people who may or may not be recognized as all that different from anyone else, but whose honesty and constancy sustain the Kingdom of God.