The Road From Geneva to Jonestown Starts With Believing the First Lie
“Many of the Temple members left notes and letters behind. Some Temple members wrote of their desire to leave all their assets to the Soviet Union. One unsigned letter read, ‘We did not want it this way. When we heard (that Congressman Ryan was killed) we had no choice. We would be taken. We have to go as one, we want to live as Peoples Temple or end it. We have chosen. It is finished.'”
I will be starting a series of studies with my family today. The series will begin with discussing a photo of 900 bodies rotting in the hot sun in what was once the Jim Jones theocracy of Jonestown. I will begin with asking my family if they think they are smarter than every one of the people who are lying dead in that photo. I will then ask them if they think they are more educated than every person in that photo. If the assumed answers to these rhetorical questions are “no,” then how did these people get there?
Did they willingly, even joyfully, drink from the vat of poison as a result of following the truth? No. But in the initial days of this sect, could there have been a mass suicide day one? Why not? Because there was not yet a consensus of belief that led to the action. You get from point A to point H by believing a series of lies that build on each other….
But it all starts with the first lie. Satan did not introduce himself to Eve with a proposal to eat the fruit God told her not to eat. She ate at the end of a series of propositions.
I read a lie, actually written by a good-guy the other day that is a classic New Calvinist lie that ensnares many into their body of thought. This is not a person who would ordinarily buy into New Calvinism—knowingly. But we don’t buy into anything that we think will turn out bad. The lie is that the gospel is about, “community,” and “relationship,” and the idea that original sin was a sin against “relationship.”
Sounds good. Sounds profound. Makes logical sense. And it is an element of truth for certain. But the crux here is that the New Calvinists then make that truth bigger than what it is in order to lead you elsewhere. The “group” as the pinnacle of purpose is the foundational premise of Communism (as in Marx, Stalin, etc.), as the name implies. “Community” is a good and true concept if it is not used to pave the road to bad places. By the way, Jones’ theology was based on Marxist doctrine (“Apostolic Socialism”).
It all goes something like this:
A. Community is what it is all about, “it’s not about you” (wow! Who would disagree with that?).
B. And of course, this makes UNITY very, very, important (du! You look stupid if you disagree with that. No?).
C. But this also brings up a problem (Oh my!): The community is made of individuals (du), and they are not always going to agree on things (double du). What to do? (Pray tell).
D. We don’t always agree on things because we are sinners, but God has divinely appointed men to help us because God has gifted them with the gift of teaching. They can see the truth better than we can. And the truth is very, very, very important, so the church utilizes a group of these men to work together—just to make sure the church is being led by the truth. We call these men “elders,” can you say, “elder”?
E. Therefore, we should listen to obey these men. But, some people don’t like to listen, so the group/community should support the elders in disciplining these people in love for the sake of unity.
F. And in regard to yourself, if the elders are saying something that doesn’t seem right to you, and you disagree with them, you are saying that you are smarter than all of the elders. You don’t want to do that do you?
G. And you don’t want to cause disunity, do you?
H: A+B+C+D+E+F = We do whatever the elders tell us to do.
This is the same line of reasoning that ruled Calvin’s Geneva that the New Calvinists dream of in our day. And on a hot sunny day in Jonestown, “H” was a final sermon by Jim Jones ending with an alter call to the vat. Meanwhile, other followers who were not even present in other parts of the world complied to the alter call and slew their children with knives before taking their own lives.
And it all started with believing the true “community” lie.
It’s not an oxymoron; truth wrongly applied is far more dangerous than outright lies. And in Reformed circles—no suicides, that is far too undignified, just burnings and beheadings in Calvin’s Geneva, and more recently in our day: broken marriages, countless broken friendships, countless church splits, relentless slandering, bogus church discipline, false incrimination, molestation cover-ups, unfettered arrogance, and outrageous propositions such as the “scream of the damned”….to name a few.