Here I sit at my computer, the day before May 21, 2011. May 21, for most people, will just be a normal Saturday. For a number of others, not all of whom are strangers to me, there is a much greater expectation for tomorrow. As the followers of Harold Camping have boldly and publicly been communicating, they expect judgment day to come on May 21
This prediction has received much ridicule from the secular media, and received gentle (and not-so-gentle) critiques from Christian leaders – some making a joke of it, others humbly explaining that there’s no biblical reason to believe this.
But it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Camping is teaching this, or that people are staking their plans, money and faith on his teachings. It’s happened plenty of times before. The most prominent example in U.S. Christianity was William Miller, who claimed to have discovered the date of Christ’s return in the 1820’s. Miller was a self-educated farmer from New York – he had not been influenced by academia or being a prominent part of an institutional church leadership structure. He was an average American, reading the Bible for himself, and coming to a conclusion that seemed very clear to him: Christ would return in 1843. In the 1830’s, he began to share this message with others, and by the early 1840’s gained a large audience for his message throughout the U.S. Roughly a million people attended camp meetings to hear him speak, and the movement caught the attention of the nation. His book, Evidence from Scripture of the Second Coming of Christ, About the Year 1843, was published in 1836. Thousands believed his “biblical” insight that Jesus would return “sometime between March 21st, 1843 and March 21st ,1844,” (based on the Jewish calendar) l . They forsook their previous religious beliefs (i.e., left their churches) to follow Miller’s teachings, and the popular call that grew to “Come out of Babylon!” (Babylon, in their scheme, being the Protestant church.) Working class people eagerly anticipated the end of their struggle to earn a living. Many sold their possessions. Millerites dressed in white robes and went up on hills to await Christ’s arrival at any moment.
The spring of 1844 brought the first disappointment. The predicted time frame had passed, and the “virgins awaiting the bridegroom” were still waiting. Then the leadership of the movement focused in on an “autumnal cleansing” and fixated on the date October 22, 1844. True believers, who would be saved, were those who had left their churches and put their firm belief in this date. All others would be excluded and judged by Christ. Anyone who tempered their statement of belief with an “if” was not considered a true believer.
The results on October 22? The “spring disappointment” was followed by the “great disappointment.” The world went on, as if it were an ordinary day. In 1845, William Miller, disillusioned, left the Adventist movement that had been the vehicle for his message. He died, blind, of old age on his farm in Low Hampton, New York.
Miller was perhaps the most prominent American, but not the only church leader to make such a prediction. In the year 65, Hilary of Poiters announced the end of the world. In 1179, John of Toledo predicted 1186 as the end, based on the alignment of planets. Jehovah’s Witnesses used a mathematical calculation to predict the beginning of the war of Armageddon in 1914. When this prediction did not work out, the Watchtower society subsequently predicted 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994. A fellow Christian writer, observing the Family Radio campaign, reminisced on his personal experience with the predictive pamphlet buy a NASA engineer titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. The commonality of all these predictions? They were all wrong. EVERY time a Christian leader has set a date for the second coming of Christ, it was wrong. They have claimed biblical, prophetic and divine authority, yet the failure of their predictions has proven that they lack such authority.
But in many cases, the teachers have not recanted. They have made excuses, then regrouped and set a new date, marshaling their remaining followers, as the Millerite movement did in the spring of 1844. As for Harold Camping? He seems to know how to accomplish this. In 1994, he predicted the end of the world. It didn’t happen. Yet he still remains convinced of his own authority, unwilling to heed anyone’s interpretation of Scripture besides his.
If you are a follower of Harold Camping, believing his teaching to be biblical, please hold him accountable to his words by not following his teaching any longer when this prediction fails. The parallels with William Miller are astonishing. Many who object to Camping do not do so because they reject the authority of Scripture, as Camping claims, but because they recognize that his interpretive methods have failed over and over, and they are guided by human arrogance, not the Holy Spirit. Those of us who continue to attend Christian churches do so because we believe the biblical teaching that the church, despite it’s weaknesses and failings, is the bride of Christ, not the sin-ruled world system represented by Babylon in the apocalyptic Scriptures.
Please, please, be willing to humbly repent and seek Christ in the aftermath. Do not be deluded by Camping’s silver-tongued explanations of what happened. Hold him to his own words. And be willing to seek truth on May 22 and after. He is not the first to deceive. You are not the first to be deceived. There is freedom in repentance, but bondage in prideful determination to follow falsehood. Choose repentance from false teaching.