This post is actually written for followers of Harold Camping to read on May 22, after their leader’s failed prediction of Judgment Day on May 21 (today) passes.
Undaunted by our Lord’s explicit warning against predicting “the day and the hour” of his return and his warning about false prophets in the last days, as well as by his own failed speculation that Jesus would return in 1994, Mr. Camping has squandered enormous resources on full-page ads in national newspapers and billboards across the country for his new date.
Reared in the Christian Reformed Church (in which he was an elder), Mr. Camping owns “Family Radio Network,” with over a hundred stations and translators in the US, and others around the world, including Moscow, Istanbul, and in various parts of Africa. His organization also owns several TV stations.
I recall listening to Mr. Camping’s “Open Forum” as a teen-ager, hearing for the first time serious teaching on the doctrines of grace. However, since 1988, when he left the Christian Reformed Church, he has gradually adopted a variety of teachings. In biblical interpretation, he employes a hermeneutic in which there are multiple layers of meaning and, as in much of medieval speculation, the “spiritual interpretation” seems to be his preferred method. So it’s not surprising that he would mine the Bible much like a medieval alchemist, looking for the secret meaning.
Some of these teachings are well-represented in evangelicalism, but contrary to Reformed teaching—such as the distinction between a rapture of the saints and the second coming of Christ. Other teachings are odd interpretations that he claims to have received directly from God, although they resemble past errors in church history. In recent years, he has argued that there is no eternal punishment (hell is simply death) and so emphasizes God’s eternal decree that Christ’s work in history is merely a demonstration of what he already accomplished in eternity.
By the turn of the millennium, he announced the end of the “church era,” calling his followers to abandon their local churches. And many did. Years ago, as president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, which sponsors James Boice’s “Bible Study Hour,” I met with Mr. Camping. He was asking us to delete any reference to the church in Dr. Boice’s sermons, which we refused to do. So many loyal listeners could no longer hear the broadcast. Resolute and self-confident in the meeting, Mr. Camping seemed for the first time to me then to have crossed the line from the idiosyncratic to the heretical.
Apostasy is a serious business. Nevertheless, Christ extends his open hand to Mr. Camping and his followers to return to him and his body. Tragically, some followers will be completely disillusioned on May 22. Having already abandoned the church, many will likely become skeptical of anyone who claims to teach Scripture, indeed even of Scripture itself. (I’ve even heard of one follower who said that if the prediction turns out to be wrong, then the Bible is wrong.)
Of course, Jesus may return tomorrow, or the next day, or long after we die. We simply do not know. However, we can be sure that the errors that he teaches—quite apart from his failed predictions—are enough to regard him, tragically, as a false prophet.
Also tragic is the shame that such movements bring to the cause of Christ. Predictably (no pun intended), atheists are planning “rapture parties” around the world. (BBC report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13468131; NBC report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2J0ce66hzQ
As for the rest of us, we’ll be in church this Lord’s Day, proclaiming Christ’s death and resurrection, longing for his return…on his Father’s timetable, which none of us knows.