Monthly Archives: May 2011

I listened to Harold Camping’s Open Forum radio program last night and found myself shaking my head and chuckling to myself repeatedly, not only at Mr. Camping’s own words but also at some of the comments made by callers. One caller actually still supported Camping and even indicated that it was possible a spiritual judgment actually happened on May 21. He essentially asked, “Why not?” It was incredible to hear.

More importantly, what I noticed was a distinct pattern in Mr. Camping’s responses to callers. Repeatedly he answered callers with a statement to the effect that God is still opening our spiritual eyes, we are still learning, and the like. So that is Mr. Camping’s explanation for his errors: We’re still working on it, we’re getting there, we’re learning, and so on. Our eyes aren’t fully opened to all of this, but we can still see more than the rest of Christianity.

But that creates a pesky little problem: If he’s right, how can anyone know for sure that the next prediction he makes—or anything he teaches from now on, for that matter—will be correct? If he is still learning and God is still opening his “spiritual eyes,” then anything he teaches has a big question mark over it.

The fact of the matter is that a true prophet who is faithfully speaking what God has said would never have to back-peddle in such a way because he would have gotten it right the first time. He wouldn’t have to explain his way out of anything. The prediction would have happened exactly as foretold because it would have come from God. The only exception to that would be if God decided to relent from what He had said He was going to do, as in the case of Nineveh after Jonah preached there (Jonah 3:10). If Mr. Camping wants to claim that, however, he would have to substantiate that authoritatively from Scripture, but what Scripture says that on May 21, God relented from the destruction Camping said was going to happen? None at all.

Mr. Camping’s prediction, then, did not come from God. It came from his own mind and an erroneous interpretation of Scripture.

For example, Mr. Camping’s proof-text for his method of interpreting the Bible allegorically comes from Matthew 13:34, which says, “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.” He takes this verse and applies it to everything in the Bible even though the text in Matthew 13 clearly has in mind Christ’s words to the crowds, not the words of the Bible. This is made even clearer when we see a parallel passage, Mark 4:33–34 (ESV, emphasis added): “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” Thus, Mr. Camping ignores the context in order to cling tenaciously to his hermeneutical approach.

Mr. Camping also needs to consider this: If everything in the Bible were a parable, then the very text quoted above—”he said nothing to them without a parable”—would itself be a parable and therefore would also have to be taken figuratively.

Perhaps Mr. Camping’s eyes have not been opened to that, either.

Harold Camping is now defending his erroneous prediction by claiming that Judgment Day indeed happened on May 21—only spiritually, not physically.

In light of Harold Camping’s failed prediction, I was hoping that he would learn his lesson and admit his error. But as I suspected in my last post, that was hoping for too much. Apparently now he is making up an excuse (again) to cover up his mistake. Rather than admit his error, repent of his disobedience to the Bible and commit himself to learning how to interpret the Bible using a reliable method such as historical-grammatical exegesis, Mr. Camping continues to defend his predictions, claiming that it wasn’t his calculations that were wrong but rather his interpretation of the events. He claims that the dates are correct but that the events happened in a different manner than he had predicted.

This kind of response is nothing less than outrageous. In this International Business Times article, he is reported as saying that Judgment Day did come, but “it was spiritual.” That kind of rationalization should not surprise us, seeing how Mr. Camping has often used spiritualization and allegorization to get around objections from people or Bible verses that don’t fit his theories. Now he is using the same technique to get around the stark reality that his prediction failed to come true on May 21. On top of that, he still claims that the end will come on October 21. Will he use the same evasive maneuver when that does not come true?

Mr. Camping is also reported as saying, “We don’t always hit the nail on the head the first time.” No true prophet would ever have to make such an excuse because genuine prophets always “hit the nail on the head” the first time, every time:

And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:21–22, ESV, emphasis added)

Camping is also recorded as saying, “All I am is a humble teacher.” No, that is not true. He is a false prophet who says things that God never said. The above quoted passage from God’s inspired word declares that authoritatively to be true.

Regarding his recent failed prediction that the end of the world would happen this past Saturday, Harold Camping has told a reporter, “I’m looking for answers … But now I have nothing else to say.” (For the full story, click here.)

I, too, scratch my head, though not for the same reasons as Mr. Camping. I wonder how a man who has studied the Bible for so long could actually believe that he could reduce the awesome mystery of the time of Christ’s return to a simple mathematical formula, and that based on arbitrary, subjective interpretation. I also scratch my head in wonder how so many people could hang on his words so devoutly. No doubt I will continue to wonder.

“I’m looking for answers … But now I have nothing else to say.” That is what he should have said all along instead of making brash, overconfident predictions which he had no authority whatsoever to make. My hope is that he will humbly admit his error and repent. It would not undo what he has done, but it would at least be comforting to know that he is willing to turn from the error of his ways. I would even go so far as to say that he should step down from his position and turn over the reins of Family Radio to a responsible teacher of the Bible.

That might be hoping for too much, but I will say it here very emphatically anyway: Mr. Camping needs to step down. If he were a qualified, divinely called teacher of the Bible who was placed in his teaching position through the proper biblical process, he would have never made the horrible errors he has made, and it would not have taken a failed prediction—and all the unpleasant consequences that went along with it—to bring him to say, “I’m looking for answers.” He would have taken that attitude all along because he would have been under the authority of elders in a local church, humbly submitting his teaching to their scrutiny to keep him from going off the deep end. But this is what happens when people set themselves up as Bible teachers without submitting to any authority in the church.

I do pity Mr. Camping. I sympathize with him—believe it or not—because of the inner anguish I know he must be dealing with right now. But my sympathy can’t change the fact that he must step down. He must stop plaguing the church with his false teachings. He must stop leading others astray. He must stop trifling with Scripture and treating it as his plaything to do with as he pleases. MR. CAMPING: PLEASE STEP DOWN FROM YOUR POSITION.

First of all, hopefully Harold Camping has learned not to trifle with the word of God as he has done for so long. He was wrong about September 1994, and he was wrong about May 21, 2011. How many wrong predictions does a man have to make before he and his followers realize that his predictions never entered the mind of God?

That leads me to the next lesson that I hope has been learned from all of this: I hope that those who have followed him—believed him, hung on his every word as though he had the secret key to unlock the mysteries of Christ’s return, given up so much to follow a false prophet’s false message—that they will turn from this man and support him no longer.

Having said that, I must admit that all of this May 21 teaching has actually taught me something, too. It has made me realize that I have been guilty of forgetting about the Second Coming of Christ almost completely over the years. It was not until recently, with all this May 21 Judgment Day talk, that I have actually thought about end times and Christ’s return more than I have in a long time. That does not justify Harold Camping’s irresponsible method of interpreting the Bible and leading so many astray—not by a long shot—but it certainly does make me ask myself: Have I pushed the Second Coming of Christ so far from my mind that it takes a false prophet who sets a wrong date for Christ’s return to make me think about the end? Apparently so. And shame on me for that.

It is certainly easy to do. It is easy to reason, “Well, Jesus didn’t come back last month, so he won’t come back next month. And Christ did not return last year, so he probably won’t return next year, either. For that matter, he has not returned in the past decade, so he probably won’t come back in the next decade, either….” That is no excuse, though. Christ plainly and strongly commanded his disciples to watch and to be ready. That means living for the kingdom of God faithfully and looking eagerly for Christ’s return, as is made clear by the following passage:

”Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:45–51, ESV)

Clearly, then, followers of Christ are to be serving Him faithfully and consistently and avoiding the pitfall of complacency. What a danger there is in growing lackadaisical and complacent. Such an attitude can cause us to lapse into a life of sin like the wicked servant in this passage. Woe to us if that happens because, just as with the wicked servant, the Lord might take us by surprise, exposing us as hypocrites whom He never knew.

But this has also made me realize something else: I haven’t heard the return of Christ preached much in church pulpits. The topic of the end times seems to be rarely addressed in church sermons, at least in my experience. But why? Has the emphasis been placed so much on our “best life now” that we don’t think about end times anymore? Have sermons been so focused on improving our present lives and solving our current problems that there has been no room for looking forward to the end? If that is the case, we need to take Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians very seriously:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 1–4, ESV)

What is ironic is that focusing on the end times can have a dramatic impact on our present lives. Peter wrote to Christians it was their very knowledge of the end of the world that should have an impact on their lives in the present, spurring them on to great holiness in light of the dire events that will occur at the end:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10–13, ESV, emphasis added)

Camping was wrong, but the frenzy of concern about the end that he stirred up should make us examine what place the return of Christ really has in our hearts. Shouldn’t we be lovingly expecting his return, anticipating it greatly and eagerly? Indeed we should, and shame on us if we have not been doing so. We should be living every day with the same fervent expectation of Christ’s return as Camping’s followers did on May 21. Every day for Christians should be a sort of “May 21, 2011.”

A conventional worship service

Proponents of house churches try to build a case by focusing their criticism heavily on the conventional worship service.

Another argument offered by adherents of house churches has to do with structure. The way the traditional worship service is set up, they say, hinders fellowship. Not only does everyone stare at the back of someone else’s head for most of the time, but most of the participants are passive, riveting their attention on the pastor and the worship team. In such a structure, they claim, fellowship and accountability are not possible.

That’s a correct observation, but it’s also rather pointless because the conventional worship service is not designed to be a time of intimate fellowship. Its purpose is corporate worship and the public preaching of the Word of God. That is why it is structured the way that it is. Form follows function. There is a reason that the seats in a theatre, for example, are not arranged in a circle so that all the people can face each other. The function of a theater is not to provide social interaction but rather to facilitate the public viewing of a movie. Similarly, the goal of the conventional worship service is not for the participants to rivet their attention on one another but rather to worship God collectively and to hear the Word preached.

Proponents of house churches presuppose that any gathering of Christians must provide fellowship and accountability. To their minds, if a gathering of believers does not meet those goals, then it is not a legitimate church meeting. Thus, the people who make this argument begin by setting up a requirement, then assume that all gatherings of believers must meet that requirement, and finally reject the conventional church on that basis. But is this requirement authoritative to begin with? If so, it must be found in the Bible, yet there we see only general commands regarding how the corporate meeting of believers should be conducted, such as “Let all things be done for building up” and “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:26b, 40; ESV). The New Testament does command that we use our gifts to edify others in the body of Christ, which would seem to validate this criticism by house-churchers, but such a command does not limit the use of gifts to one gathering. It is possible to use one’s gifts in other gatherings of the church.

Another problem with this argument is that it examines only the worship service but goes no further. Thus, those who make this argument are neglecting—perhaps deliberately—to consider the many other opportunities that conventional churches offer for the very fellowship and accountability they crave. Small groups, for example, have become the norm in contemporary churches. It seems difficult to walk into any church nowadays and not find a variety of small groups offered. The groups may vary by meeting time, location, gender, and/or age; but they all seek to provide the “face time” that house-churchers claim is lacking in the conventional worship service.

As much as I appreciate the house-church movement’s pursuit of intimate fellowship among believers, this insistence on imposing a requirement on the worship service that is not found in the Bible amounts to legalism, and that should make us wary.

The house-church movement has been around for a while, and it seems (from what I’ve heard) to be gaining popularity (though I don’t have any solid research to back that up). Many books have been published about the subject, one of the most popular authors being Frank Viola. One ministry (not connected with Frank Viola as far as I know) that does a good job of defending house churches is New Testament Restoration Foundation.

I’ll say it up front: I am divided about house churches. I am not against them as long as they are done biblically, are led by qualified men and are sound in doctrine. Unfortunately, in most of the house churches I’ve been to, that has not been the case. If I were to find one that is sound, however, I’d love to be involved with it because I do believe that, if done right, churches that meet in homes are superior to traditional churches because they can provide deeper levels of fellowship, accountability and general “one-anothering” than conventional churches can. Those are benefits that should not be taken lightly and that have led me to agree with much of what the house-church movement is all about.

I thought I’d post some thoughts over a series of posts on this topic. As with any subject related to Christian living, we need to exercise careful discernment. Arguments at first glance may seem strong and credible but fall apart under closer scrutiny. Sadly, some arguments in favor of house churches fall into this category.

One such argument is actually quite straightforward. It boils down to this: The early Christians always met in churches, so we should, too. House churchers will cite biblical texts that show historically that believers in the early church met in homes. I doubt anyone would dispute that. The problem is that those texts don’t prove as much as house-churchers think they do because they are not commands. They indicate a historical pattern, but that does not in and of itself mean that people were actually being told to avoid conventional churches. We know that simply because the issue of conventional church vs. house church did not exist back in their day. After all, conventional churches as we know them today were not in existence yet. So, while it can be shown as historical fact that early Christians met in private homes, nothing indicates that early Christians were commanded to meet in such places. Since it was not a command to those early Christians, it cannot be said to be a command for us today.

There’s a problem with looking at the book of Acts and saying, “That’s how they did church back then, so that’s how we should do it now.” Statements like that assume that the entire book of Acts is prescriptive, providing rules and guidelines for how to do church, how to live the Christian life, etc. But if we take that interpretive approach, then to be consistent we have to apply it to everything we read in that book. But we don’t. The early church had all things in common. Do house churches today do that, too? In the Gospels and Acts, miracles were performed along with preaching. Does that mean that preaching today that is not accompanied by miracles is not authentic? What about people claiming they are prophets and speaking prophecies in God’s name? Do house churches do that today? How much of Acts is historical narrative chronicling how the early church grew, and how much of it is normative?

The question is one of hermeneutics. How are historical narratives to be interpreted? Are they intended to be how-to manuals or are they intended for some other instructional purpose? Jesus walked on water and turned water into wine. Those are historical facts. Are our Christian lives falling short if we don’t do those things? I think it’s very, very problematic to go to the book of Acts and essentially say, “Well, that’s how such and such was done back then, so that’s how we need to do it today.”