See Part II: The Critique
by Christopher J Gordon- Lynden, WA
It was December, 999 AD, and a great panic was spreading throughout Europe that the end of the world was less than a month away. 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.
Wild eschatological interpretations and predictions of Christ’s return have always been a problem since Christ’s first coming—this is nothing new. But we seem to be living in a time when the consciousness of the end of the world not only grips the community of faith, but also the world at large. Political and economic chaos characterizes news reports. In the last ten years, a powerful earthquake has struck each year killing thousands, the most recent in Japan leaving us in horror as we watch the footage. On people’s minds is the question as to whether these things mark the end of the world. We are told the Mayan Calendar itself predicts a 2012 apocalypse; and Hollywood, capitalizing on this fear, recently debuted “2012”, a movie depicting the awful destruction to be unleashed at the end of the world.
I live in the town of Lynden, WA. On many of the major roadways, even into Vancouver, B.C., are signs and billboards warning that Judgment Day will happen on May 21, 2011. This prediction is made by Harold Camping, the co-founder of Family Radio, Inc. My initial response was to laugh off the prediction in astonishment, not only because the Bible condemns such predictions, but because Camping already did this, and got it wrong. Who would possibly believe him? But after receiving mailings in support of Camping’s prediction that went out to every home in Lynden, and knowing the fearful response of many Christians, a response is warranted.
In this first column, I outline some of the untold history that informs Camping’s behavior. My goal is not only to show why Camping’s prediction is wrong, but also to have us think through the consequences of such predictions. In the second column, I will attempt to answer the following questions: Why are predictions of the end world dangerous? What does Christ say specifically about his return? How is the church to be prepared for Christ’s return? The Lord has not been silent about these issues, and listening to the voice of Jesus Christ alone is the best remedy to keeping us from ungodly fear.
Remembering Harold Camping’s Ominous History
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. On a given Sunday morning, Camping’s Sunday school class drew almost half of the attendees of the Alameda CRC. 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.” 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. Camping would soon, unashamedly, predict September 6, 1994 as the date of Christ’s return.
When Camping’s first prediction failed, claiming miscalculation, he then began to reinvent his scheme with the idea that God ended the church age. “Sometime earlier” wrote Camping, “God was finished using the churches to represent the kingdom of God.” 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. Why this particular date? In an obscure time scheme combined with strange mathematical formulas, Camping was able to secure this date as the end of the church age. The common answer heard over the Open Forum was that around thirty-five years ago God began to open the true believer’s understanding to know the entire timeline of history—a justification based on an obscure interpretation of Eccles. 8:5, and other detailed and often confusing studies in numerology.
What Harold Camping conveniently chose not to reveal is that May of 1988, reputedly, was the month the Alameda CRC began censuring Camping from teaching the adult Sunday school class. Though, according to bulletin records, the official announcement of the reorganization of the Sunday school class without Camping as the teacher was made public in the Sunday bulletin on June 5, 1988, the controversy climaxed in the weeks prior to this date, on or around the May 21 date. After a summer of conflict, church visitors were sent to assess the situation and turmoil in the congregation, and supported the Consistory’s decision to deny Camping the privilege of teaching. The official date the elders took over the adult Sunday school class was September 11, 1988.
The whole controversy that spanned Camping’s censure and departure from the church was roughly from May to September, 1988. Drawing a preliminary conclusion, is it really a coincidence that the period Camping’s teaching controversy broke open in the church coincides with the “month and year”, if not the exact date, that Camping would later declare the church age ended? 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.
Pride and bitterness had so overcome Camping that he was able to declare that upon the year of his censure and departure from the church, God was done with the entire church, and from that time forward, God would only work in the “true believers” who were willing to take the stand with Camping and come out of the church. 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”. Consider what Camping’s real mathematical formula looks like:
144,000 (Symbolic number of the complete church before May, 1988) - 1 (Harold Camping exits sometime after May, 1988)
= 0 (No more salvation in the church)
Does that calculation make sense? If it doesn’t, using Camping’s reasoning, you must be in spiritual darkness because only the “true believer” will have the discernment to know time and judgment.
As September 6, 1994 approached, the impact of Camping’s prediction was felt, astonishingly, worldwide. 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. Camping would soon recalculate stating that he missed one last outpouring of God’s mercy which he called the latter rain. His current views have been widely circulated in the pamphlet, “No Man Knows the Day or the Hour?” Camping writes,
We had learned that May 21, 1988 was the last day of the church age and was also the first day of the 23-year period of Great Tribulation, during which Satan has been employed to officially rule the whole world. During this first 2,300 days of his 8,400 day period the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from all churches as well as the entire world, insofar as salvation is concerned…This salvation is not occurring in any church but will continue outside of the churches to the end of the Great Tribulation, on May 21, 2011. 
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”. 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). Since Camping has of late rejected the doctrine of hell, anyone who does not repent by rejecting the church will simply be annihilated. The date Camping has set for the final judgment of the world is May 21, 2011.
In the next column, I will address the tragic consequences of Camping’s teaching. I will also address how Christians are to live in readiness for Christ’s second coming.
© All Rights Reserved. This article will be published in the April 6 Issue of Christian Renewal MagazineRELATED: Office Hours: What the Bible Actually Says About the End Times
 See Harold Camping, 1994? (New York, New York: Vantage Press, 1992), 531.
 Harold Camping, WE ARE ALMOST THERE! (Oakland, CA: Family Stations, Inc.), pp. 41-42.
 Ibid, pg. 28
 The following details are taken from personal interviews of those involved and church bulletins corresponding to the appropriate dates. The conclusions drawn are my own.
 See Harold Camping, No Man Knows The Day or the Hour? (Oakland, CA: Family Stations, Inc.)