Harold Camping’s New Revelation: “Leave the Church!”

By Wayne Jackson

In 1992, Harold Camping, a syndicated television preacher operating out of Oakland, California, penned the following words:

“The results of this study indicate that the month of September of the year 1994 is to be the time for the end of history” (1994?, New York: Vantage Press, p. 531).

Some 3,500 years earlier, Moses wrote:

“[W]hen a prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which Jehovah has not spoken: the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him” (Dt. 18:22).

Here we are — a decade after Mr. Camping’s illustrious “oracle” — and history has not ended. That is a telling commentary on the gentleman’s prophetic abilities.

Now, however, the Bay Area prognosticator has baffled the community of Christendom with another rather shocking pronouncement. Camping, who labors under the burden of his own self-designed brand of “millennialism,” has declared that we are at the beginning of the “great tribulation” period, hence the “church age” has ended. He has produced a tract titled, “Has the Era of the Church Age Come to an End?,” in which he answered his own question in the affirmative.

When one enters the world of “Harold Camping teaching,” he finds himself in a maze of mystery. It is almost as if the gentleman selects a variety of passages from different sections of the Bible — Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Matthew, Luke, or Revelation — and throws them on the floor, to see whether or not a pattern of theology will form.

As noted above, Camping now contends that “the work of the church is finished,” and that those who remain in the church, during the time of the on-coming “tribulation,” will be destroyed. He thus bids the faithful to flee the church. He goes so far as to suggest that if one were to find a church “where it appears that each and every doctrine they hold is faithful to the Word of God,” it should be avoided — if one hopes to escape the impending destruction.

The argument to which Mr. Camping resorts, in an effort to establish his incredible theory, is wholly perverse. It represents a textbook case of a deceitful handling of the Scriptures.

For example, the Family Radio minister asserts that the Israelites of the Old Testament era (pre-Babylonian captivity) were instructed to flee Jerusalem in view of the coming Chaldean invasion. Camping says that it was “God’s plan that no one was to remain in Jerusalem.” Subsequently he identifies “Jerusalem” with “the church.” Supposedly, this circumstance prefigured the fact that in our own day, just prior to acceleration of the so-called “great tribulation,” Christians are to flee from the new Jerusalem (the church), because this spiritual city will be destroyed just as ancient Jerusalem was. Hear the gentleman’s admonition: “We must remove ourselves from the church.”

Into this fanciful mix, he blends a generous helping of Luke 21:20-24, applying this passage to the twenty-first century, rather than to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 — to which the text clearly refers (see v. 32).

Numerous other examples could be cited to illustrate the bizarre nature of Camping’s theology. The Radio/TV preacher fanatically and arbitrarily “spiritualizes” the Scriptures in order to conform them to his personally-manufactured millennial theology.

Articles in mainline religious journals report that some churches are losing members who have fallen under the spell of Camping’s propaganda (see: World magazine (4/20/02) and, Christianity Today, (5/21/02). It is a dangerous mix when biblically illiterate people come into contact with a misguided religious instructor.

But let us focus for the moment upon Camping’s major thesis, namely that “the church age has come to an end.” This dogma is totally at variance with the most fundamental components of Bible truth.

  1. Six centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophet Daniel announced that in the days of the Roman rulers, God himself would set up a kingdom (the church — cf. Mt. 16:18-19; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:4,6) which would “never be destroyed” nor the “sovereignty thereof left unto another people.” Rather, it would “stand forever” (Dan. 2:44).

    To this testimony one might add that the writer of Hebrews affirmed that we have received a kingdom (the church) that “cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28; cf. v. 23). There is not a shred of biblical evidence that the church is to be forsaken in view of an impending destruction.
  2. In the Great Commission, Jesus instructed his people to disciple the nations, immersing penitent believers (cf. Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38) into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19). He further cautioned that these new converts should be taught the additional elements of the gospel.

    Based upon the disciples’ willingness to carry out this commission, the Savior promised to “be with [them] always, even to the end of the age [i.e., the Christian age]” (v. 20). Later, Paul supplements this truth, by observing that those who submit to baptism enter into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), which, in another place, he says is the church (Eph. 1:22-23).

    From a consideration of these passages in concert with one another, it is obvious that the church was designed to continue throughout (to the very end) the entire span of the Christian age — which culminates with the return of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24).
  3. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul exclaimed that God is to be glorified “in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever” (Eph. 3:21). One might as well argue that Jesus Christ will “come to an end,” as to argue that the church will — for both the Lord and “the church” are chronologically coordinate in this text.
  4. Finally, Mr. Camping’s position reveals that, actually, he does not even understand what the church is! The “church” is not merely some sort of corporate entity, into which, or out of which, one passes solely by the exercise of his will. The church is a collection of people — people who have been cleansed from their sins (see Eph. 5:23-27), and added together by the Lord (Acts 2:47).

    To suggest, therefore, that one should “leave the church” is the equivalent of admonishing folks to abandon their salvation! Moreover, it is clear from the text cited here (v. 27), that Christ ultimately will “present” the church to himself, which presentation will occur at the time of our resurrection from the dead (cf. 2 Cor. 4:14). Obviously the church is not going to be destroyed, as per the Camping doctrine.

It is hardly necessary to pile text upon text in refutation of Mr. Camping’s unwholesome theory. The most amazing thing about this entire debacle is the distressing reality that the gentleman has attracted such a gullible following — sincere people, but a group that is spiritually blind, being led by one who has an even greater degree of culpability.

Sadder still is the sobering fact that many folks have not needed a “Pied Piper,” parading under the banner of a “prophet,” to lead them away from the church. They have become perfectly adept themselves at an exodus from fellowship with God. And it is a horrific trek into eternity.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.