If you are reading this, you must have missed the predicted departure. Harold Camping ventured into the treacherous waters of Bible prophecy to forecast a date when God would “catch up” the Church into heaven and launch a judgment on the remainder of the world. The day, May 21, came and went without any unusual phenomena.
Camping does not, nor has he ever served on a pastoral staff of a church. An engineer by training, he partnered with several people in 1958 to purchase an FM radio station to broadcast Christian programming. He ascended in influence on the Family Radio to become president and one of the leading teachers. Without formal theological training, Camping has evolved into a spiritual leader for many of his listeners.
Following the more recent brand of interpretations of Bible prophecy, Camping believes that Jesus will rapture the Church from the earth prior to a 7-year period of judgment called the Tribulation. At the conclusion of the Tribulation, Jesus will return to establish his kingdom on earth for a thousand years (Millennial Kingdom). The rapture sets the entire scheme in motion.
Camping has been fascinated with biblical history, establishing a date for the creation of the world of 11,031 BC. Using many biblical passages, Camping then turned to the rapture to try to determine its occurrence. He published the date of September 6 in his book, 1994, although he admitted, “the possibility does exist that I might be wrong.” When he was wrong, he corrected his calculations to September 29, then October 4, then March 31 – then he retreated.
It was somewhat surprising for Camping to attempt another date for the rapture. The day after May 21, Camping said he was “very disappointed,” but quickly set about reexamining the passages and revised his prediction. May 21 was only the beginning of God’s judgment in a spiritual sense, which will culminate in a final judgment October 21 of this year.
This may seem like harmless prattle, and it would be if nobody took him seriously. Abby Carson quit her nursing job two years ago and she and her husband devoted themselves to publicizing Camping’s prediction. They invested their own resources for their activities, as did Joel and Adrienne Martinez. After quitting their jobs, they sold their home and budgeted to live on their savings while they passed out tracts right up to May 21.
Many of his listeners have donated money so that he could spread the word to the world. In 2009 he received $18 million in donations. He contends that he does not need to return the money because he has not completed his task.
Many other people have unsuccessfully predicted the rapture or the end of the world, including Edgar Whisenant. The former NASA engineer immersed himself in a study of eschatology and published a small book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988. He was so certain of the date between September 11 and 13 that he said, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong … I would stake my life on Rosh Hashana 88.”
Whisenant decided that he had missed the date by a year. When that day passed, he corrected it to October 3. He followed that with a publication, The Final Shout – Rapture Report 1990. He altered his prediction by one year for the next 7 years, until finally he abandoned the project.
Many would categorize Camping and Whsenant as false prophets. They did make predictions that did not occur and according to Deuteronomy 18:20-22, if a prophet claims to speak for the Lord and his prophecy is not fulfilled, then he could be put to death.
I would place these man and many like them in the category of false teachers. They are not prophets in the true sense of the word because they do not claim that God has given them new revelation directly. Instead, these men contend that their predictions result from a diligent and scholarly study of the Scriptures. Although they may be diligent students of the Bible, many would contest that they are anything but scholarly.
In one sense these men do not differ from the preachers who stand in the pulpit week to week who intend to declare a message that conforms to Scriptural truth, or the teachers in seminary and on the radio who exegete the Bible for those who are less trained in this field, or the authors who offer biblical insights into life. All these people claim to impart God’s Word through careful study and interpretation. We are preachers and teachers of the Scriptures.
We should not be overly harsh on these men for their failed predictions. But we should impose a stern rebuke of them for their willingness to repeatedly mislead people into extremist behavior and misuse the financial resources entrusted to them. They should give an account for their careless teaching and irresponsible leadership. We should correct them for their lack of humility and failure to admit their presumption and foolishness.
Most of these men do not answer to any human authority. They minister independent of any denominational oversight. They often do not even submit to a local church’s authority. They answer only to themselves and are adept at dodging criticism and avoiding admission of wrong.
Paul says this about them, “Certain persons, by swerving from [a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith], have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:6-7)
The best thing to do is to turn them off when they come on the radio, don’t buy their books and stop listening to them.