“They had all things common.” The phrase “they had all things common” (Acts 4:32; see also Acts 2:44; 3 Nephi 26:19; 4 Nephi 1:3) is used to characterize those who lived the law of consecration in ancient times. Some have speculated that the term common suggests a type of communalism or “Christian Communism.” This interpretation is in error. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught the true nature of having all things common: “I preached on the stand about one hour on the 2nd chapter of Acts, designing to show the folly of common stock [holding property in common]. In Nauvoo every one is steward over his own [property].” (History of the Church, 6:37–38.)
Each stewardship is considered private property (see Reading L-4), and the residues and surpluses consecrated for the storehouse became the “common property of the whole church” (D&C 82:18). It is referred to as the “common property” because the covenant members of the order had access to it, according to their just “wants” and “needs,” including the need to improve their stewardship (see D&C 82:17–18).
The word equal is frequently used in the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants: “In … temporal things you shall be equal” (D&C 70:14); “for if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (D&C 78:6); “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). The Lord gave His definition of the term equal: “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” (D&C 82:17).
Equal claims by all members in the covenant were upon the common property or resources for the administering of stewardships. Through these mutually shared rights or claims all became “alike” (D&C 51:9) or, in other words, had equal standing. The procedure for determining whose claim should be satisfied was established through the approval and consent of all who participated in the order (see D&C 104:70–71).