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Harold ‘Hal’ Camping’s latest prediction is a cautionary tale.  Not only does it make him look foolish (once again), but many vulnerable souls are not only out of a job and out of a house but have broken off some familial ties as a result of his prediction that the world would end on Saturday, May 21, 2011.

What was ‘supposed’ to happen

The Telegraph recapped events for us on the day, one hour after the world was meant to have ended in BST (British Summer Time):

The 89-year-old Californian preacher and radio host had prophesied that the Rapture would begin at 6pm May 21st in each of the world’s time zones, with non-believers wiped out by rolling earthquakers, as the saved ascended into heaven.

His refusal to schedule a media interview for the following day – “It is absolutely going to happen. There is no way that I can schedule an interview because I won’t be here.” – was being replayed by media as the world firmly stayed standing …

Mr Camping’s doomsday prediction wasn’t his first. He blamed an earlier apocalyptic prediction which passed quietly in 1994 on a mathematical error, last month saying: “I’m not embarrassed about it. It was just the fact that it was premature” …

Mr Camping, a retired engineer, spread his message of doom via Family Radio, which has a network of 66 radio stations and online broadcasts.

However websites in the United States reported that not all of those working for the station were so sure, with a receptionist telling journalists that she expected to turn up for work on Monday …

The Rapture – the belief that Christ will bring the faithful into paradise prior to a period of tribulation on Earth that precedes the end of time – is a relatively new notion, rejected by most Christians.

What ended (!) up happening

Three days later, the Telegraph carried this update:

Mr Camping, who predicted that 200 million Christians would be taken to heaven Saturday before the Earth was destroyed, said he felt so terrible when his doomsday prediction did not come true that he left home and took refuge in a motel with his wife.

His independent ministry, Family Radio International, spent millions – some of it from donations made by followers – on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 vehicles plastered with the Judgment Day message …

Apocalyptic thinking has always been part of American religious life and popular culture. Teachings about the end of the world vary dramatically – even within faith traditions – about how they will occur.

Still, the overwhelming majority of Christians reject the idea that the exact date or time of Jesus’ return can be predicted.

I guess the paper isn’t allowed to say, in case they offend someone, that the Bible tells us no man can predict the day or the hour.  Yet, Camping predicted it rolling out in an orderly fashion whenever it turned 6 p.m. in each time zone.  Hmm.  An interesting theory.

A former Camping follower, TeachingTulip, is now a Calvinist (we’ll come back to this later) and had this to say on the related Puritan Board thread:

My husband and I have known Camping for years, and supported Family Radio until just after the “1994” fiasco.

I remember him saying way back when, that 2011 was in his thinking and might ultimately be the true date of the Lord’s return . . . but we never, ever, heard him teach a partial resurrection or a “RAPTURE” of only some, leaving others behind to suffer tribulations, etc. (supposedly for another “153 days”) until Judgement Day. Both of these things are new, and we just now discover and disclose them as being contrary to Camping’s life-time teachings.

Camping always denied the Pre-millennial notion of a “rapture,” and always used to biblically teach that the “rapture” really referred to the last and final resurrection of all souls. John 5:28-29.

So this is just another spiritual jolt, experienced by his friends and former supporters.

Not excusing an old friend, but not ready to judge, either.

Please people, reduce the ridicule and increase your prayers for this man . . . he is still alive and potentially able to repent from error, if God might so choose to bless with His correcting grace.

Whilst I take on board what this lady is asking, I cannot help but recall the adage when I think of him, ‘There’s no fool like an old fool’ and ‘God shall not be put to the test’. Let’s recap Jesus’s words in Matthew 24, specifically verses 29 to 31 and verse 36 (emphasis mine):

29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

 30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

 31And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other …

36But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

A Reformed Pastor’s view

Those who read Calvinist sites regularly will be familiar with Dr Kim Riddlebarger, pastor, broadcaster at the White Horse Inn (‘Know what you believe and why you believe it’), author and visiting professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California.  (Emphases mine throughout in the excerpts below.)

Dr Riddlebarger says that he sees this

as one gigantic mess, which God’s people will be cleaning up for years.  I, for one, am not very sympathetic to Mr. Camping, or to those who follow him.  Here’s why:

1).  He’s done this before.  1994? anyone???  If Camping lives much longer (he’s 89), he’ll likely do this again.  As one of my favorite philosophers, Dirty Harry, once put it when his police superior questioned whether the serial killer (so wonderfully played by Andy Robinson) would continue to kill, Harry replied, “Of course he will.  He likes it.”  You cannot tell me that however Camping came to this particular date for the Lord’s return, and however sincere he might he be in his calculations, that the man does not love the media attention … 

2).  Camping was disciplined by his church, and never once demonstrated the slightest hint of repentance.  When Camping was removed from his office for his unbiblical speculations, Camping’s response was to declare that the church age was over, and that people should leave their churches!Harold Camping is not some grandfatherly old man who has weird views on things (every church has a few of these).  This is a man, who, when he did not get his way, sought to create widescale schism and division in the church.  How can we not conclude that many among his followers are schismatics who have followed their master in his sin?

3).  Camping is not a theological conservative defending the faith, he’s a theological radical, and has a dangerous hermeneutic.  Camping gained a following among Reformed cultural conservatives by defending the view that only men should hold the office of minister, elder and deacon, that evolutionary thought had no place in Christian colleges, and that the rampant immorality of our age cannot go unchallenged nor be accepted by Christians.  Meanwhile, the “conservative” Camping was using some outlandish and distorted hermeneutical method to calculate the day of Christ’s return and telling everyone who would listen that he was right and that anyone who challenged him had no authority to do so.  Since when did theological conservatives attack the perspicuity of Scripture?  Or champion “private interpretation” while mocking the teaching office and disciplinary authority of the church?

4).  Someone  has to say it — the man is a false teacher and a kook.  My sense is that Camping falls within the exhortation given by Paul in Romans 16:17 (and elsewhere) — such people are to be avoided.  Camping is a false teacher, plain and simple.  Anyone who repeatedly pulls the kinds of shenanigans he has should have no credibility.  Non-Christians see him for what he is.  Yet, Christians feel ashamed about calling him out on the same grounds–when Scripture requires that we do so!  Yes, we need to pray for his repentance, and yes, we need to be merciful to those whom he has deceived.  But given the way the man handles God’s word, he is self-edvidently a kook.  He has no business being labeled a “teacher.”  And it is tragic that he has used his vast radio empire to deceive so many.

5).  The only prophecy which will be fulfilled in association with Harold Camping is 2 Peter 3:3!  Scoffers will come, and sadly, Camping has given the scoffers a whole bunch of ammunition.  This is why is is so vital that Christians be clear to everyone who will listen, that despite this man’s false prophecy, the blessed hope awaits all those who are Christ’s, and the day of judgment will come upon those who are not.   This is a serious matter, and Christ will not be mocked.

Those interested may read my recent post for more on 2 Peter 3.

How did Camping get here from there?

For a bit of Camping history, let’s look at the insights of another Reformed pastor’s perspective, that of the Revd Chris Gordon, pastor of the United Reformed Church in Linden, WA, and author of The Gordian Knot blog.

Mr Gordon walks us through the history of Camping’s ministry in ‘Judgment Day, May 21, 2011? Harold Camping & The Untold Story’The story begins in 999, even before Camping’s time:

Predictions of the end had surfaced throughout the first millennium, but as the sun went down New Year’s Eve, the millennial frenzy reached new heights. Possessions were given to the churches, debts were forgiven, prisoners freed, merchants refused payments for goods, and the churches swarmed with people confessing their sins. Many of the sick begged to be placed outdoors to see Christ’s descent from heaven. Pope Sylvester II held a mid-night mass at St. Peter’s in Rome, the supposed last one ever to occur on earth, and in the moments before midnight, as the church bells sounded, enemies embraced each other with the kiss of peace. As the moments into the new millennium transpired, nothing happened.  The aftermath left behind a wake of disillusionment, especially when churches refused to return people’s possessions.

Fast-forwarding to the last century for a bit of Camping’s story, here’s where Calvinism enters the frame.  The CRC is a Dutch Reformed denomination:

Harold Egbert Camping was born July 19, 1921 in Boulder, CO. His family later relocated to the Bay Area in California and became members of the Alameda Bible Fellowship (CRC). After World War II, Camping founded his own construction company, later to sell the company and join in a collaborative effort to purchase Family Stations, Inc.—a California religious based broadcasting network. Following a series of business deals and a mounting multi-million dollar surplus, Camping was able to expand Family Radio throughout the United States, also buying time on foreign stations around the world, translating his teaching into over thirty foreign languages. In 1961 Camping started the Open Forum, a weeknight call-in program devoted to answering questions about the Bible. Camping soon gained a Reformed voice over radio that was widely influential in the Christian world.  Reformed believers, excited that the doctrines of grace and hymns could actually be heard on a radio station, sent in thousands of dollars to support the efforts of Camping. Many people who had never heard of Calvinism and the Reformed doctrines were brought to faith in Christ through the teachings of Family Radio. 

Camping was also involved in the Alameda CRC as an elder and later an adult Sunday school teacher … The problems began, however, sometime before 1988 when Camping began to advance the idea that one could know from the Bible when Christ would return. When challenged that “no man knows the day nor the hour”, Camping was known for responding, “yes, but we can know the month and the year.”[1] In 1992 Camping self-published his controversial book “1994?”, in which he suggested the possibility that Christ would return sometime between September 15th and 27th of that year, dates corresponding to the Feast of Tabernacles.[2] Camping would soon, unashamedly, predict September 6, 1994 as the date of Christ’s return.

Then, Camping predicted the end of the Church.

“Sometime earlier” wrote Camping, “God was finished using the churches to represent the kingdom of God.”[3] In his book “We Are Almost There!” we find that Camping chose the date of May 21, 1988 for the end of the church age.[4]

And that was the date when the Alameda CRC removed Camping from instructing their adult Sunday School.

Is it not the least bit suspect that Camping would later declare that the Holy Spirit was removed from the church beginning on May 21, 1988, the very same period Camping himself was removed from teaching “in” the church? And is it not alarming that Camping now “outside” of the church would declare, soon after his own departure, that anyone still identified with any church is now under the judgment of God? In legal terms, I think it’s safe to say we have motive.

Camping’s followers were numerous:

This is a severe warning of what can happen to those who reject the elders who rule with the authority of Christ. Over forty percent of the Alameda CRC, many of whom were employed by Family Radio, “went out” from the church and subsequently started their own “fellowship”.

Six years later:

People sold their homes, gave their money to Family Radio, and gathered together as they waited for Christ to come that year. As the date passed, hopes were dashed and the next day Camping was unrepentant over the radio, stating that he had made an error in his calculations …

Then (and now):

In a scheme that rivals C.I. Scofield’s dispensationalism, Camping’s teachings are again inflicting fear and confusion upon many in the church. If anyone is to be saved, declares Camping, he must be saved “outside” the church since God has rejected anyone “identified with any church”.[7] What became of the ordinances of the church?  Camping declared that since the church age ended and people were to leave the churches, the sacraments were also to be discontinued—an astonishing claim since the church is commanded to observe them until Christ comes (1 Cor. 11:26).

We now move to an in-depth theological perspective from Dr W Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary California:

Camping’s teaching reaches the status of heresy in his recent appeal to the world, “Judgment Day,” an eight page statement online. The saddest and most distressing element of Camping’s latest theological statement is that it is Christless. He does not write about Christ’s return, but about judgment day. In his eight pages of warning and call for repentance he writes only this of Christ: “Because God is so great and glorious He calls Himself by many different names. Each name tells us something about the glorious character and nature of God. Thus in the Bible we find such names as God, Jehovah, Christ, Jesus, Lord, Allah, Holy Spirit, Savior, etc. Names such as Jehovah, Jesus, Savior, and Christ particularly point to God as the only means by which forgiveness from all of our sins and eternal life can be obtained by God’s merciful and glorious actions.” Notice that Camping says nothing of the Trinity, writing as if Christ and the Holy Spirit are not distinct persons of the Trinity, but just different names for God. If Camping means this, then he is not a Trinitarian, but has adopted the ancient heresy of modalism. Notice also that there is no mention of the cross and Christ’s saving work for sinners. Forgiveness is nowhere linked to the work of the incarnate Christ. For Camping the mercy of God comes simply to the repentant. He never mentions faith in Christ. He also makes clear that those who cry for mercy might be saved. He offers no assurance of salvation: “Nevertheless, the Bible assures us that many of the people who do beg God for His mercy will not be destroyed.” Notice that not all, but only many who repent will be saved.

Camping’s presentation of God’s mercy is from beginning to end unbiblical and unchristian. He has no Trinity, no cross, no faith alone in Jesus alone, and no assurance. His vision of God and mercy is more Muslim than Christian. If Camping still believes in the Trinity, in Jesus and his cross, and in justification by faith alone, then his recent teaching shows that he is a failure as a teacher of the Gospel and his call to repentance lacks enough content for sinners to find salvation in Jesus.

And, perhaps it is this which attracted so many vulnerable people to the May 21, 2011 date.  Largely, today, the Cross is almost forgotten, and people like it that way.  Yet, without it, Christianity loses its meaning.  However, for a Western society steeped in New Age talking points, one can see the sad, erroneous logic in all of this.

Again, read Scripture, pray, find a good church, confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour and remember His perfect sacrifice for our sins … but by no means put your faith in charlatans.  And that’s the Gospel Truth.

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