By now you have heard that Harold Camping and his followers are declaring that the Day of Judgment will begin this Saturday, May 21, 2011, at precisely 6:00 p.m.  Of course, all of this talk has drawn the attention of the secular media to Camping, the 89 year-old founder of Family Radio Worldwide.  At least until next Monday.  They’ll laugh and mock and then move on to another topic.

What about those who believe in a literal rapture?  What can we say about such a declaration?

It is prideful.

While his proclamation is cloaked in a garment of concern and evangelism, its substance is nothing more than presumption.  The apostle Peter called the Scriptures a “more sure word of prophecy” than our personal experiences.  In that same passage, he warned that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”

Camping’s declaration smacks of a private interpretation that equates to exclusive knowledge.  He sets himself up as the sole repository of divine knowledge and revelation.  At the very least, he is the only one in Christendom who is smart enough or spiritual enough to have interpreted the Scripture accurately.  In fact, he posits that only those who embrace his teaching are “true believers,” while all others are apostate.  He is so proud as to “guarantee” his prediction on the group’s website.  (I imagine Family Radio’s technical support team will have a busy weekend.)

It is unbiblical.

Christ Himself cautioned His disciples not to claim such knowledge of His return.  In fact, He declared that only the Father knows the day and hour of His return (Matthew 24:36).  When He stated “it is not for you to know the times or seasons,” He was not only speaking to the eleven, but to all true disciples who would follow.  I have read Camping’s defense against this statement, and it doesn’t hold up.

Camping presumes to know the precise date of the Genesis flood, the symbolic meaning of biblical numbers, and the proprietary equation to arrive at his conclusion.  Rather than requiring complex mathematical computations or hidden codes embedded in the Hebrew and Greek alphabets, the Word of God is clear and convicting for all who will rightly handle it.  Christ will surely return, and we will certainly not be able to pinpoint the date ahead of time.

In fact, his teaching is wrong on a number of doctrinal matters.  Frankly, this prediction of the Day of Judgment may be the least of his troubles.  In multiple sermons and interviews Camping has encouraged individuals to cry out to God before it is too late.  The hope that he offers?  “Maybe, just maybe, God will save you.”  In fact, that is exactly how he encourages people to pray: “Oh Lord, have mercy! Maybe you could still save me.  Keep begging Him.”  That’s a far cry from a prayer of faith and the promise of Romans 10:13.

It is unoriginal.

“Been there, done that.”  Only in eternity should we be able to say this regarding the Lord’s return.  However, this is not the first time someone has set a date.  Notably, William Miller proclaimed that Christ would return on March 21, 1844.  In an attempt to reconcile this “Great Disappointment”, many affirmed that the Lord had returned in a spiritual way that one could not see with human eyes.

As I cleaned off my bookshelves recently, I discovered Edgar Whisenant’s work 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.  I figured that it was safe to dispose of it by now.  Perhaps I should do the same with Camping’s previous book, 1994? At least he included a question mark the last time.

According the Old Testament law, it was a treacherous position to claim a divine proclamation and see it fail.  It is likely that the only consequences this time around will be that Harold Camping fades into obscurity and his followers are again disappointed.

Yet, there are other repercussions.

It is damaging.

First, it harms individuals.  His errant predictions do nothing more than fuel the scoffers who continue to taunt, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:4).  It misleads earnest seekers and new believers who are more easily swayed by false winds of doctrine (Eph. 4:14).  No doubt, it turns away some who might seriously consider the Gospel of Christ, but were first exposed to Camping’s nonsense.

Second, it afflicts God’s church.  Those who are earnestly contending for the faith do not need the distraction and disdainful attention that Camping has brought.   The Lord has graciously offered salvation and promised to return for His own – on His own schedule.  That will continue to be our message.

Finally, it damages God’s name.  From sarcastic late night talk show hosts to serious journalists, the consensus is that Camping is a kook.  Although an accurate assessment, the whole situation damages the name of Christ and those who earnestly seek to follow His Word.

Our response?

Believers are instructed throughout the New Testament to mark and avoid those who teach false doctrine and cause divisions within the body of Christ and offenses before the world (Romans 16:17).  With appropriate humility and biblical authority we identify Harold Camping as a false teacher.

Ultimately, believers still have a job to do.  We are to demonstrate exemplary Christian lives, share the Gospel with all who will listen, and do the work to which we are called.  Look for Christ’s return with a sincere desire to be found faithful in that day.  May we echo in word and action the sentiment of the exiled apostle, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.