The Harold Camping Effect
Vol: 116 Issue: 23 Monday, May 23, 2011
I would estimate that I heard approximately forty thousand “end of the world” jokes (give or take) since Harold Camping’s deadline for the Rapture passed without incident.
It is all anybody was talking about, pretty much everywhere I turned. My neighbor across the street was triumphant; “See! We’re still here!”
Every late night comedian and Hollywood celeb made some kind of joke about Christians that believe in the Rapture.
Every secular TV news outlet had some kind of sneering “background” report about Christians that believe in the Rapture as if they were some kind of cult within mainstream Christianity of whom Harold Camping was exemplar.
Most of them located a prominent ‘Christian’ – usually a priest, sometimes a prominent Protestant theologian, to explain the prevalence of “rapture cults” claiming the rapture was “unknown to the Church until it was invented by “Darby in the early 19th century. . . blah, blah, blather, blah, blah.”
The general sense of the news coverage is that in terms of Christian doctrine, the Rapture is something held only by those on the lunatic fringes of Christianity, as is interest in Bible prophecy in general.
And not only is such interest bordering on the lunatic fringe, it is extremely damaging.
If one is a secular news editor, a militant skeptic or even a casual Christian reader/viewer, this isn’t a hard premise to swallow. Look at all the damaged lives!
Every news story found a fresh example of ‘believers’ that quit their jobs, gave away their life savings, split their families — or worse. There was actually a debate between two lawyers on Fox News on Sunday morning about whether or not the disenchanted had a right to sue Harold Camping for damages!
Clearly, there is no legal or Constitutional protection against being gullible.
But it seems like there ought to be a law against guys like Harold Camping. Or so the general consensus seems to be in what passes for secular thought on issues of Bible doctrine.
Take this front-page example from the seriously biased Detroit Free Press reporter Niraj Warikoo:
But from the Christian militia Hutaree to a preacher with a TV show out of Rochester Hills, the belief that Christ will return in the end of times is held by many in Michigan. For some of them, it’s a way to convince people to turn to God and live righteously.
For some of them . . . (insert dramatic pause here) . . . but here’s Warikoo’s view of the ‘typical’ doomsday believer.
In 1999, the FBI issued report called Project Megiddo that looked at various apocalyptic groups, some of them Christian, in advance of 2000. And in recent years, the Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye that depict the end of times as a bloody apocalypse have become best sellers. Today, some believe in a supposed Mayan prophecy that the world will end in 2012.
Picking days and years of Christ’s return has often gotten headlines, but to this date none of the prognostications have come true,” Rev. Bob Cornwall, pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, said Saturday. He notes that current Rapture theology, as popularized today by LaHaye, “dates only back to the 19th century.”
You see? Only the lunatic fringe of Christians believe all that Rapture stuff — mostly because they read “Left Behind” – but they are dangerous enough to warrant the FBI’s attention.
In Wichita Kansas, a group of militant atheists gathered at Wichita State University “to say that “end of the world predictions” are “dangerous” to society.
They are not just dangerous. They’re none too bright, either:
About 19% of Americans with college degrees believe that Christ will return by the year 2050. That increases to 35% for those with some college education and to 59% for those with a high school degree or less, according to a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center.
Most churches don’t teach much about the Rapture now — and I would be willing to bet the farm that it will be taught even less in the days to come.
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
According to Camping, the Rapture would have occurred on Saturday and the destruction of the universe would take place five months later.
I am gratified to report that I didn’t receive a single email from any of our OL members asking me if Camping’s calculations had any validity. You were able to see through it.
That is because the only similarity between Camping’s interpretation and what the Bible actually predicts is that the Bible says there will be a Rapture.
Other than that, Camping made up the rest of it out of an over-eager imagination. But what about all those people that tossed their Bibles and instead chose to believe Camping? What were they thinking?
Now that he has been proved a fraud, what happens to their faith? Camping’s followers had great faith – many showed more faith in Camping’s predictions than he did.
Many of his followers quit their jobs, sold their homes, gave away their possessions and money and picked up their cross to follow him.
Harold Camping, whose Family Radio Network was worth $180 million the day before the world was supposed to end, was still worth $180 million after his prediction failed. Camping hung on to his possessions — just in case.
That should have been a clue. When the guy selling the product doesn’t use it — you shouldn’t either.
Harold Camping’s followers had great faith and no doubt many of them lost it on Saturday. That is because they had misplaced it to begin with.
Some of them put their faith in Harold Camping. Others put their faith in the Rapture. Still more, believing they had some special Biblical insight, put their faith in their own abilities.
In the end, they had their faith in everything except Jesus, Who said that no man could know the day or hour. By their standard, Jesus let them down. In truth, it was the other way around.
Jesus was right — it was Camping that was wrong.
The Bible says, ‘by their fruits ye shall know them’. Camping made two other failed predictions. That should have been a clue, as well. Clearly, it wasn’t.
Bible prophecy is real – and it has been proved accurate in every circumstance where it is possible to test.
Those that followed Harold Camping weren’t following Bible prophecy. They were following Harold Camping — so they got what they should have expected.
It’s heartbreaking to see faith as great as that wasted on something so transparently obvious.
We cannot know when Christ will return. Apart from the drop-dead statement to that effect – “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only” – there is logic and reason to consider.
Let’s take the reasons why logic and common sense agree (unsurprisingly) with Scripture. First, if God wanted men to know when Christ would return, He would have said so clearly.
Instead, He said precisely the opposite. So speculating about the timing of the Rapture is not merely pointless, it is disobedient. Because it is disobedient it is also divisive and diversionary.
Christians that believe they’ve calculated the date of the Rapture end up breaking fellowship with those that tell them they are following the wrong path.
Instead of spreading the Gospel of Love, they are diverted into spreading the gospel of wrath. Rather than salvation by grace through faith, they embrace salvation by Rapture through fear. To Camping’s followers, if you didn’t embrace his May 21 doctrine you’re not saved and would be left behind.
Salvation does not come by faith in a doctrine, or by faith in a teacher, or by faith in the Rapture. Believing in the Rapture for salvation is like believing that seat belts prevent traffic accidents.
There are things we know, things we think we know, and things we cannot know.
We can know that if we place our faith in Jesus, we will “in no wise be cast out.” We think we know the chronology of the last days, but in reality, we “see through a glass darkly” we know only in part, but have confidence that we will eventually know, “face to face.”
We cannot know the things that God has specifically told us we cannot know – like the date of the Rapture. We know that the Bible is infallible. We should know that Bible teachers are not.
We know that Christ will return. We know that all the earth will be judged. We know that all that has not been redeemed (including unregenerate, unrepentant sinners) will be purged.
We know that it is not too late for sinners because we are still here and we know what the Great Commission requires of us. We cannot know the date and time of the end, but we can know that it is near, even at the doors.
Wisdom is found in knowing the difference.
Harold Camping’s followers were world-wide and therefore, Saturday amounted to a world-wide disappointment. As I said earlier, there aren’t many churches that teach the Rapture, and no doubt there will be a lot fewer in the days to come.
It will be a lot harder for us to discuss the last days and the Rapture with the lost – and even with the saved. A lot of Christians that believed the Rapture was near will rethink their positions – I even expect to see the rise of ‘anti-rapture’ sermonizing in the Churches.
There is a verse about the coming of the Lord that always sort of clanged off-key to me. After all, we live in a world that so resembles the one the Bible forecast would exist in the last days that a guy like Camping could make world-wide front page headline news.
“Be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 24:44)
Post-Harold Camping, that verse makes a lot more sense to me than it did before.