Obviously, Harold Camping is wrong, there was no rapture, there were no giant earthquakes and Jesus did not in fact come back. And let’s be honest, nobody is really all that surprised at this, Anyone who has read any bible and has even the most basic understanding of healthy evangelical theology knows that “rapture-talk” is hogwash and tomfoolery. So it was pretty much Camping and his followers freaking out and everyone else shrugging their shoulders. And in the last week or so Camping’s campaign picked up some major twitter and word-of-mouth coverage for the sheer silliness of it all. As much as has been joked about by both Christians and non-Christians (Guilty. But to be fair, rapture jokes are pretty funny) there is some grave seriousness to this issue. This has the opportunity to bring out the gospel or hide the gospel to two particular groups of people.
Harold Camping’s followers
Harold Camping seems to be a bit different from most cult leaders, because Camping (aside from the rapture-talk and heretical view of the church*) comes off normal-ish(compared to most cult leaders) and pretty sincere. It has been pointed out in a view online articles that Camping “had no plan B” and put millions of his own dollars into his rapture campaign. His followers were never made to wear uniforms, drink Kool-Aid or move to Panama. But these people have/had a faith so strong that many cashed in their retirement, sold all of their things and quit their jobs in preparation for 5/21/11. So naturally, when Camping’s prophecy fell through, there are going to be people without retirements, without supportive families and with a faith shaken to the core.
This is where the church comes in. The local church in areas where this group has/had some influence has a opporunity to reach out and present an actual truth to people burned and possibly disenfranchised with things of a spiritual nature. What these people do not need is more religion, more enthusiastic commitment, but rest, in a true actual Jesus. Because they have been looking to an angry “jesus” who hates people, hides rapture charts in the bible and entrusts charismatic men to be the mediator between them and God. The gospel, on the contrary, proclaims a Jesus who loves people who don’t deserve to be loved, reveals himself plainly and honestly in the bible and is himself the mediator between God and man. The church needs to come along these people, help them put their lives back together. I read an interesting post written to the followers of Camping earlier today and I think it is helpful in modeling the way the church can meet these disappointed and hurt people where they are at with level-headed, gospel-centered theology (Read that post here)
It is serious, and Camping, despite the fact that he was probably sincere in his beliefs, has really screwed up some peoples’ lives. @FleetFoxes (you know, the really good band) tweeted “that rapture guy should be arrested” earlier today. Everyone, inside and outside the church is worried for these people and see how this dude has really really jacked stuff up. Bringing me to the other group the church needs to handle wisely|
The church has always had up and down relationships with non-believers (from great friendships to mutual disdain) and to a degree this will always be somewhat of a complex relationship, since obviously, the gospel has implications for non Christians and Christians want non-Christians to become Christians. But the bible does encourage Christians to be thought of well by outsiders(1 Timothy 3:7) and Christians interact daily with people who know they are Christians but not much more about their particular theology.
This here is an opportunity to a.) distinguish ourselves theologically from people like Camping by clarifying the gospel we believe and b.) be gracious to Camping & co. in a way only possible through the gospel. This whole thing, at least for me, has allowed me to have more conversations of theological nature with people who would not usually engage me in that way. Through all of this I’ve gotten the opportunity to clarify the gospel I believe and condemn the religious and charismatic errors of Camping, which has actually, I believe, improved my non-Christians friends’ understanding of what I do and do not believe.
The gospel cause me to condemn anyone. As I write this I am aware of my need to repent, since I have been doing this all week. Camping is so wrong it’s unbelievable, I disagree with just about everything he stands for, but that doesn’t mean I can treat him as a lesser man. Only the cross can forgive me of my double standards, and only the cross can prompt the church to engage the non-churched in pointing them to healthy theology and orthodox, loving, gospel-rich, inclusive, honest, true Christianity. Today Scotty Smith wrote a great post on how Christians should think of the ‘end times’: through the lens of the gospel, it’s prayerful, well thought and gracious.
As far as being gracious to Camping, this is the counterintuitive part for me. I just want to hate on this dude, and I have, sinfully. I disagree with him, but just ripping on him is ungospel. I don’t go around to non-Christians ripping on other people’s worldview, what makes this different? The gospel frees me from any self-righteousness I may have and the gospel tells me that I am just as jacked up as Harold Camping.
So let’s have this be an incident that leads to a high view of the church to outsiders, not a lower one.
Church & Culture
This is a rare incident where something heavily theological becomes viral and prime-time. Which means the cultures eyes will, if not just for a moment, be on Christianity (both healthy and unhealthy) because of how close this cult fell to Christianity, from the untrained eyes perspective. So let us, as the church in the culture handle this well, because people are, at least for now, watching the church closer than usual. What a great opportunity to broadcast the gospel.
*Harold Camping believes that the church age is over and all churches have gone apostate (left the faith). He thinks that his orginization is in direct right standing with God: thus, by definition making him a cult leader