Have you seen those “The Lord is Returning May 21 2011” billboards?

There are several places in Scripture where Jesus positions himself, and by implication, God,  beyond the bounds of human prediction. As servants of Jesus we are told to be watchful, but watchful in the human condition of uncertainty. Concerning the coming fulness of the Reign of God, Jesus reminded his followers that “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the father.” Plainly Jesus warns about fruitless esoteric speculation and challenges his followers to get on with the work of the Kingdom.

This very practical position of Jesus, however, has never been respected by some of his followers who practically lust after the prospect of an apocalypic end-of-the-world scenario that culminates in some kind of godly vengeful justice being meted out in great quantities.

Others of a more secular or even ‘new age’ mindset have recently put their faith in other  visions of the apocalypse. The marketing of ‘survivalist’ information and materials has now created a whole new industry. Predictions of the ‘end of the world’ arriving on December 21, 2012 according to interpreters of the Mayan calendar are rapidly gaining popularity and are becoming the subject of serious discussion. This, even though scholars point out that those predictions are based on a significant failure to take very real discrepancies in that calendar into consideration and therefore have no empirical probablility or credibility.

Our Diocesan Youth Movement is having a weekend at Camp Artaban at the end of March entitled “Apocalypse Wow”. It’s going to be an exciting weekend of activities based on current social interest in the ‘end of days’ and will include an overview of the Book of Revelation with an attempt to get to the Gospel message in that text, a message that reaches beyond all the esoteric hype of those who see in it a blueprint for future apocalyptic cataclysm. The planning committee is putting together an exciting experience for the youth of the diocese. Encourage young people in your parish to attend.

After all, we’re dealing with a long heritage of questionable predictions that now culminate in the billboards springing up across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland sponsored by an organization called Family Radio. The message is simple: The Lord is Returning May 21, 2011. To listen to Family Radio’s Harold Camping is to recognize another voice in a long line of of those who have bet on the wrong horse of attempting to out-know God. It’s been going on for at least the last two millennia. But Camping has done it before. His early 1980s book, 1994 (a clever play on Orwell) contained his last set of end-of-the-world predictions supposedly based on the Bible. At that time, notes author Brandon Withrow, “(Camping’s followers) emptied their bank accounts to pay for large black billboards across the city. They printed pamphlets and bought 1994 by the cart-load.” It seems history is repeating itself.

But Christ did not return in 1994. Neither did he return in 1988 when the book 88 Reasons why the rapture will be in 1988 was in circulation. Nor did Christ return in 1914 as the Watchtower Society predicted, nor in 1844 as the Adventist follwers of Ellen G. White predicted. And on it goes, back through the Great Panic of the Year 1000 generated mainly by a Burgundian monk named Raoul Glaber.

Glaber claimed that unmistakable signs of wars, invasions, epidemics and diverse omens evident as the year 1000 approached were all pointing to the end – much as television figures like Jack and Rexella Van Impe proclaim today. The Van Impes boast a huge television following. In the wake of Glaber’s predictions, crucifixes and statues of the Blessed Virgin were seen to weep and groan. The devil was sighted in a variety of shapes and forms, grinning horribly. In 993 Mount Vesuvius had erupted causing great destruction. The church of St. Peter inRome had caught on fire. Even the death of Pope Gregory V in 999 was a sure sign, preceded in 997 by “an enormous dragon, coming out of the North and reaching the South, throwing off sparks of lightning”. (quoted in Rubinsky and Wiseman, A History of the End of the World).

As  a result of the kind of ‘Biblical interpretation’ practiced by Glaber and others near the end of the first Christian millennium, thousands set off from Europe on Holy Land pilgrimages, leaving behind their homes, land, families and their work. Camping and his followers will hardly have that effect in today’s secular minded society, but nonetheless they do great damage to the Gospel, causing more and more people to question the credibility and value of Christian faith and practice.  Indeed, Christian faith again becomes the butt of jokes, typified in The Simpsons episode, “Thank God, It’s Doomsday” where Homer discovers that his end of the world predictions were off because he miscalculated the number of people at the Last Supper.

But as American episcopalian writer Brandon Withnow notes, “these end-of-the-world prophets are often well-meaning, decent people. The world they live in is less than enjoyable – either becuase there is little to hold them or because it does not fit the ideals they have been raised to embrace — and so they are looking for a first-class seat out of here”.  Sad but true, perhaps.

But in Camping we have the latest end-of-the-world lottery tarted up in a Biblical disguise. “Unfortunately, like the lottery, these hopes are built on the hard earned money of the desperate. When the dust settles on May 22, 2011, will they buy another ticket and repeat?” queries Withrow.  Probably.

note: Have a look at the blog “Last Year on Earth” run by San Fancisco Chronicle repoter Justin Berton. There’s a video of Harold Camping there, explaining his position. Just google it.

Register your parish’s young people for Apocalypse Wow!. See the diocesan website for details.

Deacon Steve Bailey invites you to join the conversation on nwanglicanblog. What are your experiences with ‘end-of-the-world’ thinking? What are your observations?

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5 Responses to Have you seen those “The Lord is Returning May 21 2011” billboards?

  1. Cory Wasmus says:

    At the forefront, this is somewhat entertaining to those of us strong in our beliefs, but we face a very serious threat. This kind of thing is to be expected (1 Pet 4:12). I take the risk of being too deliberate about this, but through this heresy our faith is being threatened, after all… this is all being done under the name of Christianity; the term should not be used so loosely, especially of those false teachers. Just as we have seen in our own lifetimes, their destruction is not asleep, the corruption will be exposed and those weak in the faith will only be exploited by them for so long.

    2 Peter 2:1-3 “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

    view my story on this subject “Judgement Day, is it upon us?”

  2. Silas says:

    Stamping Out Harold Camping

    Is Second Coming date-setter Harold Camping worthy of death? He already has a zero batting average after his September 1994 prediction fizzle and, according to the Bible, is a false prophet.
    Nevertheless that California shaman, who should be ashamed, claims he’s found out that Christ’s return will be on May 21, 2011 even though Matt. 24:36 says that no one knows the “day” or “hour” of it!
    A Google article (“Obama Fulfilling the Bible”) points out that “Deut. 18:20-22 in the Old Testament requires the death penalty for false prophets.”
    The same article reveals that “Christians are commanded to ask God to send severe judgment on persons who commit and support the worst forms of evil (see I Cor. 5 and note ‘taken away’).”
    Theologically radioactive Harold Camping and his ga-ga groupies (with their billboards featuring “May 21, 2011”) should worry about being “stamped out” if many persons decide to follow the I Cor. 5 command.
    The above article concludes: “False prophets in the OT were stoned to death. Today they are just stoned!”
    PS – For many years Camping was not known as a pretrib rapture teacher. But now, for $ome my$teriou$ rea$on, he seeks support from those who believe in and teach an imminent, pretrib rapture which supposedly will occur SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE the traditional SECOND COMING to earth! For a behind-the-scenes, documented look at the 181-year-old pretrib rapture belief (which was never a part of any official theology or organized church before 1830!), Google “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards” and “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts.”

    • Rev Fred says:

      Remember Camping is not selling anything on the radio to make money. Family radio was always free to the listerners.
      What has he to gain by sticking his neck out like this???
      If the end comes, he is off and if the end does not come he is off. He is doing this because he truly believes God is using him for this message. What does he have to gain? I don;t have the kind of courage he has. Just think what he is putting out there.
      I remember the professors in Seminary telling us that the Genelogies in the Bible are only important to trace the line of the prophets. They discounted the actually life spans. Think of it, It would take an engineer to learn the significance of the numbers so God could give us a warning of the actually end.
      Whether he is right of wrong we will know it in less than 4 months.
      But, you have to ask yourself, look at the state of the world. That is more scary than judgment day. What the heck is going to happen to us if May 21, 2011 does not happen.

  3. Rev Fred says:

    Sooner or later one of these predictions has got to be right! You sound like you are saying that the world will never end! Look at the world today. How would you fix it?
    The world is in such a mess our only hope is God’s return. You who don’t want him to return, ask yourself: Who is going to help the world. The world is truly beyond any human help. No jobs, no money, no future. Governments around the world in unrest! Greed and violence and vice has already destroyed our world. Now our only salvation is the Lord’s intervention.

  4. Karen says:

    I am waiting in joyful hope of the coming of the Lord and we say in church! I just don’t think we know when, and don’t think anyone should be so presumptuous as to think they do. This person is either a false prophet or truly specially blessed. Wait and see. Whatever the case it is a wake up call and should not be taken as a farce or the truth.

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