Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Let's take a moment to think the best here for a bit. In his heart of hearts is it possible that Harold Camping started with the vision of teaching the Word of God to as many people as possible through radio and doing something good with it? When you look at his background he seems to be a faithful sincere Christian who served his church well and followed God's lead to launch a bible-focused ministry during a time when the church was struggling with great social changes (60's). His radio station strove to keep programs that were true to God's Word and not associated with "extra-biblical" revelation. That is, anything from outside the Biblical pages. Good sound approach isn't it?
What happened? Somewhere along the line he declared the "church age" over. He believes that all institutional expressions of the church are apostate. By doing this he left any semblance of accountability for his teaching which is always dangerous. His biggest error (there are many others) was getting into biblical numerology and attempting to predict the end of the world, which he has missed three times now. And here comes October 21st.
What are the source of these errors? I believe it is three-fold.
First, he allowed himself to embrace a false and dangerous way of biblical interpretation where after looking at the context of a verse (very good) you look for the "spiritual meaning" behind verse (very bad). In doing so he turns a narrative story with spiritual lessons and principles into an allegory or symbolic story reading into it additional spiritual meanings. When you do that you are lost in the woods. My professor used to say, "when the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense." The bible is meant to be understood in a straightforward way. There are times when it is literal narrative and times when it is poetic, prophetic, parable, or epistle (letters to churches) but it gives you clear clues to be able to discern that. By departing from good interpretation he opened the door to disaster.
His second error, in my view, was doing what Christians so often do. Early on, he started worshipping bible study instead of God. It's so easy to worship a method that we are passionate about and lose sight of God. We worship worship, or prayer, or small groups, or other Christian ministry methods that are designed to get us closer in our relationship with God. If done correctly we love God with all of our hearts, we love people around us, and we reflect the same gentle and humble character that Jesus had. He so fiercely defended the need for personal bible-study and made the method his focus instead of a sincere relationship with God. That led to another reason for his downfall.
By putting so much focus on understanding the bible rightly he shrugged off the possibility that he could be wrong. He became the ultimate authority because he saw himself at THE mouthpiece for God's truth. The truth is ANY of us can get it wrong, can get imbalanced, can misinterpret, can misapply truth. That's why we need the church. We need other sincere, mature, and godly eyes on our teaching. We need a community of love and truth to be a sounding board to keep us accountable as we strive to live out God's truth correctly.
At worst he is a cult leader and false prophet, at best he is a man who started out with a genuine love for God and passion for the truth who took a very wrong turn and has given the world another reason to mock God, the Bible, and the Church. But I wouldn't worry to much about that. The truth runs deep, lives are being genuinely changed by God's love and grace, and the true church can and will stand firm and continue to follow God's lead.
As for Harold, I'd love to have coffee with him sometime and have a civil discussion on what we agree on and disagree on and urge him towards the truth. As for me, I will keep a healthy fear of taking a wrong turn in my own walk with God. I pray that my heart would always be tender and authentic and my bible study and application accurate . I hope that I can finish my life having done more good for God's kingdom than bad. Perhaps that's the most any of us can expect.