Previous article in this series: November 15, 2011, p. 76.
“When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, [then you may know] that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.”
As stated in the last issue, because church membership is one of the great issues facing Christ’s church today we intend to devote one more article to the follies of Camping, responding in particular to his greatest injury to Christ’s church and truth, namely, his claim that the church age has ended.
But first we note that we are writing this editorial (appearing in the Dec. 1 issue) the week following October 21, meaning that once again there has occurred no rapture, no return of Christ, no final catastrophic judgments on the world.
Harold Camping has once more been exposed as a false prophet and an inept student of Scripture, to say nothing of being a miserable Bible teacher. The response of a Camping spokesman to the Christian Science Monitor requesting an explanation for Camping’s failed prophecy was, “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but we at Family Radio have been directed to not talk to the media or the press.”
As expected, Camping and his “End of the World” prediction has become the object of ridicule (with none but himself to blame). As one newscaster (on a YouTube excerpt) said to another, “I have never seen a man with such big ears. It must be so he can hear God speak.” To which the other replied, “Exactly. Words nobody else is able to hear!”
The grief is that by association he brings the whole of biblically-based Christianity that waits for her Lord’s return into ridicule with him.
But, for all his failings, Camping is well versed in Scripture (which in itself proves nothing for biblical wisdom or trustworthiness. The Devil also is well-versed. None better. Still, trust him not). This means Camping is familiar with the Deuteronomy 18 passage quoted above. If there is one biblical passage Camping ought to reflect upon, it is this passage, with the realization that if there is any passage that applies to him and his so-called insights into Scripture, it is this passage.
It is noteworthy that two verses previous (v. 20) God told Israel that upon such presumptuous prophets His judgments would fall, judgments working death. And this is not the only passage where God speaks of such judgments on lying prophets (cf. Jer. 14:15, 16).
Are we suggesting that Camping be put to death?
Not at all.
But these passages ought to put Camping and Family Radio on notice as to the seriousness of Camping’s folly and that he has some real repenting to do. Let him now use Family Radio one last time to confess his errors in a public way and seek to undo some of the terrible mischief he has brought into people’s lives.
To this point, Camping’s only apology has been “I have been told that I had said back in May, that people who did not believe that May 21 should be the Rapture date, probably had not become saved. I should not have said that, and I apologize for that.”
One expression of regret, and a weak one at that.
If there is one area Harold Camping and Family Radio could now attempt to undo some of the evils they have brought into people’s lives it would be in the area of church membership, acknowledging that as they were wrong in declaring the end of the world, so they are wrong about declaring that the church age has ended. Let them demonstrate their sorrow by instructing their listeners to seek out churches that still manifest the marks of the true church of Christ (per the biblical instruction found in the Belgic Confession, Arts. 27-29), joining themselves and their children to such congregations for the saving of their souls.
For Camping and his followers not to do so will only prove they have learned nothing from this latest prophetic debacle. The only conclusion one can then reach is that Family Radio still remains committed to Camping’s privately contrived, speculative methods of interpreting Scripture (now in the area of the End of the Age as it relates to terminating church membership) and that his pronouncements, unbiblical though they have proved to be, remain as the rule of their message and faith.
Not to renounce Camping’s speculation on the end of the church age will mean that their guilt in leading many astray continues.
We mention the Belgic Confession in connection with the necessity of church membership (meaning, in the institute, not simply of the invisible body of elect) because the teaching of this venerable creed (which celebrated its 450th birthday this year) on the vital need of every believer to join himself and his family to Christ’s true church is thoroughly apostolic and biblical. Its teaching that “…out of [Christ’s church institute] there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it…” (Art. 28) is as biblically true today as when it was written 450 years ago.
The Westminster Confession, in direct reference to the visible church, declares that “out of [her] there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (25.2), and, despite impurities one is sure to find in every church, “Nevertheless, there shall be always a church on earth to worship God according to his will” (25.5). That what these confessions teach concerning church membership
is in accordance with Christ’s Spirit, while Camping’s folly is not, is not that difficult to prove.
First, the irrefutable testimony of the Spirit in the book of Acts is that He Himself sent forth the apostles under the auspices of elders [!] (cf. Acts 13:2). He sent them to preach the gospel and then to organize
believers into church institutes under the rule of officebearers/elders.
That this was the rule for the apostle Paul is plain from the book of Acts (cf. 14:23).
That the apostle expected preachers who followed him to do likewise is clear from Titus 1:5, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.”
The apostle Paul simply would not have spoken words of approval to believers who voluntarily separated themselves from all and every church institute, contenting themselves with gathering in living rooms for Bible study, seeing no need to submit themselves to Christ-ordained officebearers. Paul, Peter, John, and others were not led to institute the church with her officebearers only to have them ignored.
Second, there is Hebrews 13:17. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you!” (admittedly, emphasis mine!—KK).
Can it be any clearer?
And note well, the apostle is not just talking about securing some stated preaching supply. The text speaks of those entrusted with the authority of oversight, and then submitting to their rule for the well-being of one’s soul.
To refuse to seek out an assembly of believers where one can submit to such elders is to pretend to be wiser than Christ Himself. How can such a spirit be of Christ’s Spirit?
And striking is the judgment that Paul warns about in verse 14!
Verse 3 calls the saints to “…[endeavor] to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It takes no endeavoring to keep the unity of the saints merely by claiming to be elect and of the church universal. Belonging to the church invisible is automatically true of every believer at the time of his re-birth. The need to strive to keep the unity of the Spirit is required when it comes to membership in the church institute (as in the congregation of Ephesus itself). That’s where saints dwell together as sinners, and grace and exhortation are needed. It is in that body of Christ that a striving is required if unity of fellowship is to be kept. There the lowliness and meekness of which the apostle speaks are so important.
Verses 11-13 make plain that the office of pastor and teacher, like that of the apostleship, is nothing less than one of the great gifts of the ascended Lord for His church. Mind you, men who are ordained to be pastors who teach are what the saints need—not simply every man studying the Bible on his own and contributing to some group. To separate oneself from the gifts of Christ is to separate oneself from the Christ of gifts!
And why has Christ ordained the office of gospel preachers for the sake of believers who are to congregate themselves under that office?
Verse 14: Lest they be as “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”
And what is it that just happened to thousands worldwide due to their listening to this Harold Camping fellow, to this despiser of Christ’s church institute, and their being persuaded to divest themselves of all officebearers?
Talk about people being wide open to deception and as children carried about, tossed to and fro! Could there be a more classic example?
We can only conclude that the apostle knew what he was talking about in Ephesians 4. It ought to be transparent that the need for maintaining church membership where preachers have bound themselves to the church of all ages and to preaching in harmony with those age-old doctrines remains just as vital in the twenty-first century as in the age of the apostles. One can only hope that Harold Camping’s latest debacle and cruel deception gives those who think they can get along just fine without the church institute and escape all spiritual injury reason to pause and to reconsider their ways.
You seek a word concerning Harold Camping and his privately-arrived-at teachings? Let a man named Calvin, no speculative Bible expositor by a long shot, and no despiser of the church fathers who preceded him, put men like Camping in their place. Calvin comments on Ephesians 4:12:
[The apostle] could not exalt more highly the ministry of the Word, than by attributing to it this effect [as declared in this verse]. For what higher work can there be than to build up the church that it may reach its perfection? They therefore are insane [!], who neglecting this means hope to be perfect in Christ, as is the case with fanatics, who pretend to secret revelations of the Spirit [!]; and the proud, who content themÂ¬selves with the private reading of the Scripture [!], and imagine they do not need the ministry of the church (emphasis mine—KK). (Commentary,
Eph. 4:12.)There is no question where Camping and his despising the church institute would have stood in the estimation of the Reformers, namely, in the camp of the fanatics and Anabaptists, whose teachings the Reformers, as represented by the Belgic Confession, declared “We detest.”
The Reformers one and all called believers to separate themselves from a church institute, namely, apostate Rome, not from every church institute. In fact the very name given them—the Reformers—has everything to do with their high esteem for Christ’s church in her institutional form. They were called “reformers” exactly because, having left an apostate church, they took it upon themselves to reform the church institute anew, only now along biblical and apostolic lines. They could no more think of dispensing with the church institute (and its sacraments and its care for souls) than they could with dispensing with the preaching of the gospel itself.
They took to heart Christ’s promise to His disciples concerning His New Testament church, “[U]pon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Christ’s reference here is not simply to the universal church invisible (elect believers scattered here and there), but to the church in her institutional form. The very next words from Christ’s mouth (v. 19) are, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” which keys have to do with discipline and were entrusted not just to the apostles, but also through them to the New Testament church in her institutional form (cf. Matt. 18:17 “…then tell it to the church”).
It is exactly by a confession of the true identity of Christ Jesus and the effectual power of His atonement and His victory over evil that the church is able to resist what ushers from the gates of hell. In those churches where these truths are preached and confessed, believers are called to take refuge. There believers are preserved—not in isolation from such congregations.
To deny that such churches still exist, whose congregations believers are “bound to join,” is itself the work of the devil. One has allowed oneself to be deceived.
If any person has such a system of beliefs that he cannot find one confessionally bound church (i.e., not even one denomination tied by confessional adherence and integrity to the church of all ages) in this whole wide world to which he can join himself, then we are compelled to say to such a person flat out, “It is time, sir, for you to look into the mirror and to ask yourself, who is it that is out of step with God’s Word and Spirit? Every last congregation of professing believers because they do not agree in every particular with you? Or is it that fellow looking back at you in the mirror who is out of step with Christ’s truth still found in what remains of His faithful church?”
It is quite a thing for a man to imagine that he, with a handful of followers, is the last bastion of truth, and that when he dies, wisdom shall have perished from the earth.
That was, and evidently still is, Harold Camping’s grievous pride and blindness. His fall should itself be an enduring monument against such pride and individualism.
All this is not to deny that a church may become so apostate that believers are compelled to leave, means of grace or no means of grace for a time. But that is different than leaving and then willingly continuing to live apart from the body of Christ as manifested on earth for the rest of one’s days.
And do not imagine that it is improper to identify the church institute committed to preaching the apostolic truth with the body of Christ here on earth. The apostle Paul does precisely that in I Corinthians 12:27: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” He is addressing not scattered believers, each living in his own splendid isolation, as if there is any virtue in that, but the congregation at Corinth—believers living exactly as a congregational entity. Them he calls “the body of Christ.” There believers, each one in his own unique capacity, are to serve the members of Christ’s body, as well as to derive benefit for themselves. No believer in Corinth would have been of service to Christ’s body by living apart from that congregation.
For a believer to think that he can long live apart from this manifestation of the body of Christ on earth is utter folly. It stands in direct violation of what the apostle warns about in verse 27: “That there be no schism in [separations in or from] the body.”
Nor do we deny that at the very end, when the Antichrist does appear, Christ’s church in her institutional form will disappear for a time, believers scattered, fleeing for their lives, hunted as sheep by wolves, hiding who knows where. But this is a scattering that will take place because ungodly men in power forbid the assembling of the faithful church, hunting down her members if they dare assemble contrary to their edicts.
This is a far cry from what is taking place around us today—believers, unthreatened by ungodly authorities, voluntarily disbanding Christ’s church institute, and this at the urging of their ‘spiritual’ leader.
This was and is the spirit behind Camping’s ‘revelation’ and urging. Such cannot be rebuked strongly enough.
We do well to remember the words of the ascended Christ, who, as He walked in the midst of the golden candlesticks, in the opening chapters of Revelation, declared, “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Note well how the ascended Christ addressed believers of the early New Testament age, namely, by speaking to and through “the churches”!
This He still does today.
Your “angel” (minister) is not bringing Christ’s true word? Then like those in Laodicea, hear Christ knocking, and go out—not to live in disbanded fashion, but rather to seek a church where the candle fed by the Spirit still burns and Christ still preaches.
Christ still does, does He not?
Even in these United States.
It is exactly with a man claiming “He no longer does!” that we take issue.
That is a charge of enormous implications—Camping-like.
One best be very sure of himself before uttering such an edict.
Or the words of Deuteronomy 18:22 must be applied.