Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A hobby key vs. a full keyboard

In October 1971 general conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer—who had been sustained as an apostle only one year earlier—gave a talk in which he addressed a worrisome proclivity seen in many churches of Christianity. He said:
The gospel might be likened to the keyboard of a piano—a full keyboard with a selection of keys on which one who is trained can play a variety without limits; a ballad to express love, a march to rally, a melody to soothe, and a hymn to inspire; an endless variety to suit every mood and satisfy every need.…
Worn piano keys

How shortsighted it is, then, to choose a single key and endlessly tap out the monotony of a single note, or even two or three notes, when the full keyboard of limitless harmony can be played.…

For instance, one taps on the key of faith healing, to the neglect of many principles that would bring greater strength than faith healing itself. Another taps on an obscure key relating to the observance of the Sabbath—a key that would sound different indeed, played in harmony with the essential notes on the keyboard. A key used like that can get completely out of tune. Another repeats endlessly the key that relates to the mode of baptism and taps one or two other keys as though there were not a full keyboard. And again, the very key he uses, essential as it is, just doesn’t sound complete when played alone to the neglect of the others.
In June 1992, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Twelve gave a devotional address at Brigham Young University in which he quoted Elder Packer and applied his metaphor of the piano to some members of the Church:
In a memorable message given at the 1971 October conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer likened the fulness of the gospel to a piano keyboard. He reminded us that a person could be “attracted by a single key,” such as a doctrine they want to hear “played over and over again”.…

We could say of such persons, as the Lord said of the members of the Shaker sect in a revelation given in 1831, “Behold, I say unto you, that they desire to know the truth in part, but not all” (D&C 49:2). And so, I say, beware of a hobby key.
Later in his address, Elder Oaks commented:
A desire to follow a prophet is surely a great and appropriate strength, but even this has its potentially dangerous manifestations. I have heard of more than one group who are so intent on following the words of a dead prophet that they have rejected the teachings and counsel of the living ones.…

Following the prophet is a great strength, but it needs to be consistent and current lest it lead to the spiritual downfall that comes from rejecting continuous revelation. Under that principle, the most important difference between dead prophets and living ones is that those who are dead are not here to receive and declare the Lord’s latest words to his people. If they were, there would be no differences among the messages of the prophets.
Sadly, the counsel of Elders Packer and Oaks seems lost on Jonathan Neville. For at least five years he has blogged almost daily about a single subject—the location of the hill Cumorah in western New York. In nearly every blog post he insists that it is the “teachings of the prophets and the apostles”—he uses the plural teachings to describe a single teaching that he exalts, by his writings, above all others. Those who do not agree with him on this singular point are, he insists, leading the leaders, members, and youth of the Church astray; they are “rejecting the prophets.”

Certainly there must be other prophetic teachings—ones that are backed by actual revelation that has been presented to the saints—that are more important than this one specific issue about which Brother Neville is clearly obsessed. He claims that he doesn’t “spend a lot of time” on Book of Mormon geography, but his written record clearly says otherwise.

Let’s hope that he can find something else of worth to focus on. Soon.

—Peter Pan

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.


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