Longtime readers know that I am an Evangelical Christian, and worse yet, a Calvinist (or, Reformed). I am even one of the leaders in my congregation, and I serve my denomination. But if religion turns you off, or you hate Christianity for some reason, stop reading now, because this is an abnormal post at this blog — I try to limit posts like this to once or twice a year, so if you don’t like this sort of thing, hit the backspace key. That said, you might learn a little about how some Christians think.
My goal here is to explain Harold Camping as I see him. I probably would not write this, except that I have two bits of secondhand personal data about him, and there is little intelligent commentary in the general news media about him.
In 1988 I was a member of Covenant Reformed Church of Sacramento. Excellent church, I recommend it to all near Sacramento. Now, Calvinism is sparse across the US, but it is even more sparse in the West of the US. Calvinism does not appeal to individualists. So, if there is some sort of fracas in the Reformed churches in central California, well, word tends to get around.
I met a person who was in the last church that Harold Camping belonged to, which was in the Christian Reformed Church at that time, and he told me that Camping had been a Sunday School teacher for the adults at the church, and that the pastor eventually cut him off because what he was teaching was not Biblical. And after that, Camping left, never to darken the doorsteps of the established church again, though for quite some time, he encouraged his hearers to go to Reformed churches.
After that, a minister from Georgia came to our congregation. He had come to Sacramento in 1988, to minister to a group of followers of Camping in Sacramento (Camping had not at that time told his followers to leave the churches). He told them during his candidating that he was not a follower of Camping, and he would not follow Camping’s interpretations of Scripture. They called him anyway, and he came, with a wife and three children. After he arrived, after a few months, they fired him. What gored him was how the members would dismember his sermons saying, “What would Camping say about XYZ?” Camping was their gold standard.
He went to visit Camping at a conference, and tried to ask him questions during a time of free questions, and Camping just ignored him. No matter what he tried, Camping ignored him, so he told me. To the degree that Camping gave answers, it was akin to a politician who does not answer a question, but answers a related question that he would like to answer.
Harold Camping is a Evangelical Christian, in some sense of the term. But he has a bevy of personal doctrines that differ widely from Evangelical Christian doctrines. Most notable is that figurative and numerological interpretations of Scripture are valid. Most Evangelicals believe that the Bible should be interpreted like any other document.
- Understand the literary genre being used.
- Interpret books, then chapters, then paragraphs, then phrases. Don’t ask, “What does this phrase mean?” until you understand the book, chapter and paragraph, in that order.
- Look for the plain meaning of the text, unless there are reasons from the genre to do otherwise.
Those who look for figurative and numerological meanings everywhere, like Camping, are trying to escape the plain meaning. The plain meaning is powerful enough, so why would Camping build up a following telling nonsense stories?
Evangelicals who are not Calvinists have a hard time understanding the Old Testament, and Camping makes their life easy by flattening it into “easy-to-understand” narrative that resembles salvation in a simple sense. For many, a simple interpretation is better than a correct one.
But beyond that his idea that the Church age has been over since over since 1994 is just sour grapes over his prior prediction of 1994 failing. Like Ellen White in 1844, he makes something up to say he was really right, but you just didn’t see it.
But his his idea that the Church age is finished stems from his past rejection by pastors of the church. His teachings are aberrant in many ways, not the least of which is that one can name the date of the return of Christ. All those who have tried to suggest a date for Christ’s return in their lifetime have erred. Many have had sins they were trying to hide.
Camping has a big media platform. I don’t. If I could have drowned him out, I would have done it. He disgraces Christianity by his commentary, and by encourages those who dislike Christianity to jeer when May 22nd arrives.
But when there is no Rapture on May 21st, will Camping repent? In 1996, two fellows who upset South Korea on similar terms repented on national television. If Camping does not repent, it will do great harm to the cause of his Savior that he claims to represent.
Luther was once asked if he were planning to plant a tree the next day, and he then learned that Jesus was returning tomorrow, what would he do? He said that he would plant that tree to the glory of God.
And so it goes… Luther is very common-sense, as is Calvin. Harold Camping is not common-sense — you must rely on his unique interpretations of the Scriptures, which he uniquely developed.
God does not work through “lone wolves.” In the Bible, he revealed through 44+ men, over 2000 years, who agreed. Any religion that relies on one writer is false. I leave it to you to fill in the blanks there.
But after all of the media furor, I have to say there are few among Evangelical Christians who believe what Camping says. That group is very small; the only reason it gets the press that it does is that Camping has his fleet of radio stations.
Thus, aside from damage to the church and individual believers who have believed Camping (a small number), I see little effect from all the furor. In June, few will remember this.