In the first column, we considered the sad history of Harold Camping that led to his departure from the church. When the elders of the Alameda CRC censured Camping for his wild end time predictions, he refused to submit to their discipline. This facilitated a split in the Alameda CRC in which over forty percent of the congregation followed Camping and departed from the church. As we considered, 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.
In this column, we evaluate the fruits of Camping’s teaching. We also address why predictions of the end world dangerous, and how Christians are to live in preparation for Christ’s return.
You Shall Know Them By Their Fruits
In Matthew 7:15-16, Jesus warned about false teachers who come to us in sheep’s clothing. The marker by which Christ said we can identify them is their fruit. We can learn a lot about how false teachers operate when considering the fruit of Harold Camping’s life and teaching.
Rejection of the Church & Christ’s Rule
Harold Camping has called upon all Christians to abandon their churches, disregard the oversight of the elders, and reject the means of grace God put in place in the church to grant faith. To be sure, the most disturbing aspect to Camping’s teaching is his attack on the church. What is the church? It is the body of Christ. Camping would have us believe that the risen Christ has not only set himself against his own body, but has also rejected the very body for which he died. One wonders how Camping’s view squares with Jesus’ direct condemnation of such a separation. Jesus said, a kingdom divided against itself in this manner cannot stand (Matt. 12:25). How are believers to partake of the Lord’s Supper and “proclaim his death until he comes” if the church age ended in 1988 and the sacraments discontinued? The church is expressly called the pillar and the ground of the truth, meaning that over and against the very errors Camping is promoting outside of the church, the church is in fact the very place of safe haven the gospel is found and preserved (1 Tim. 3:15).
Elders are set apart by God to protect the purity and doctrine of the church so that these kinds of gross errors do not occur. This requires humble submission and high esteem for those who labor to shepherd the church of God, since the elders will give an account for how the doctrinal purity of the church is maintained (Heb. 13:17). To disregard this, is to directly disobey the commandment of God. In light of the history above, it is apparent that Camping in the business of “drawing away” disciples after him (Acts 20:30). Historically, this has always been the mode of false teachers (see I John 2:19). Harold Camping rejected the discipline of the church in 1988, he left the church of Jesus Christ, and now to advance his own teachings, Camping speaks in a manner analogous to the Pope’s ex cathedra (from the throne) declarations which are to be received as equally as binding over people as Scripture. Consider how far Camping has defected from the Belgic Confession, Art. 28 that he once swore to uphold as an elder:
We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and outside of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it; maintaining the unity of the church, submitting themselves to the doctrine and disciples thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren…Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God.”
Or, consider Proverbs 18:1, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment.”
Harold Camping claims that only the true believers will accept his prediction of when Christ will return and anyone who does not join with him in leaving the church is not saved. In doing so, Camping has promoted a different gospel. In “No Man Knows the Day or the Hour?” Camping writes,
…the Day of Judgment coming to destroy those who deny that near the end of the world the true believers will know the time (the hour) of Christ coming…because destruction comes upon them, we can know for certain that these people are not saved…all of those in the world who on May 21, 2011 are still identified with any church.”
Notice the threat in this statement, if you deny that Camping and his followers have the ability to know the hour of Christ's coming, and stubbornly remain in the church, you are not saved and will be destroyed. False prophets often employ intimidation and fear to hold people with their ridiculous interpretations of obscure points of doctrine. In this connection, consider the one-for-one correspondence of Camping’s error to Diotrephes’ in 3 John,
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church (3 John 1:9-10).
Camping’s outlandish views defy every rule of received Biblical interpretation and are based upon farfetched allegorical interpretations (see 2 Pet. 1:20) and new definitions of sin. The unpardonable sin is refusing to leave the church. All this is based upon Camping’s own personal revelation of a timeline of history only made available in the last thirty-five years. “True believers” are only those who leave the church and come to Camping himself. Christ warned against thieves and robbers who seek nothing more than to steal and destroy the sheep (John 10:10). Camping has ended up promoting a false gospel, leading sheep to a different door, outside of the sheepfold of Jesus Christ.
Harold Camping has attacked the mission and mandate of the church. In Matthew 24, Jesus provides a series of signs that assure us of his second coming. Jesus warned about those who would deceive with wild end time predictions and expectations that would lead many astray. Some will claim that they are Christ. Others will predict when Christ is coming. There will be political and economic chaos, wars, famines and earthquakes in various places. Jesus explained all of these things as signs that he is coming soon. After describing these signs, Jesus assured believers that no one would be able to pinpoint any particular world event and declare that the end of the world would come. Matthew 24:36 states, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only…Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect. “ Why did Jesus condemn date setting?
First, it delays repentance in the wicked. How many Roman Catholics sought confession and absolution from priests in 999 AD on the eve of the new millenium? The Lord never approved of delayed repentance; calls to repentance and faith were always today since one’s soul could be required of them this night (Luke 12:20). Second, predictions advance fear in weak Christians, especially children, and fear takes our eyes off the sovereign, all powerful risen Christ who is the Lord of history and author of our future. Jesus doesn’t want his sheep to fear (Luke 12:32). Third, Jesus wants his people to always live in readiness for his coming at any moment. In fact, the sign he encourages the church to be active with is the preaching of the gospel in all the world as a witness (Matt. 24:14).
The worst possible “witness” to the world is demonstrated in what Camping has done and is doing. Just as in 1994, in months preceding May 21, 2011, Christians are again selling their homes and businesses and sending their money to Family Radio. When these predictions fail to happen, they do nothing but desensitize people to God’s serious warning of sudden destruction that will come upon those who do not believe (1 Thess. 5:3).
We are called to be ready now. Martin Luther is known for saying, “If I believed the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.” Luther understood that the most effective way of being ready is to have Christians remaining “steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Believers are called not to bury their talents, nor hide their lights under a bowl, but to be about the work of the Lord as witnesses to the grace of Christ until he returns. If Christ actually chose to return on May 21, 2011 should it really affect what Christians are doing today? There is no good in being caught up in strange end time predictions, playing pin the tail on the antichrist, or linking a major disaster with the end of the world? Our focus should be on the mission and mandate of Jesus Christ.
Christians are not to live in fear. Jesus Christ is our king, the Lord of history, and author of our future and salvation. Harold Camping has again exposed himself as a false teacher. One thing we can do is pray earnestly for his repentance and for those caught in his delusion that they might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Whether Christ returns today, May 21, 2011, or any day after, believers should always model what it means to have their waists girded and their lamps burning.
© 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 Part One: Camping's Omnious History