Harold Camping?s Theology of the Church

Jun 11th, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

All of us were embarrassed by the failed prediction of Jesus? return on 21 May 2011.  Far more important than the inane prophecies of Harold Camping is his theology of the church.  I came across an important article published by the Christian Research Institute, written by James R. White, that focuses on Camping?s theology.  After reading this, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Harold Camping is a false teacher, indeed a false prophet.  Let me explain.

  • First, a few thoughts about Camping?s role in modern Christianity?both past and present.  Harold Camping is the president of Family Station, Inc., a California-based radio ministry with worldwide broadcast facilities, including more than 150 outlets in the United States.  Over the years, this ministry has been a significant blessing to believers as they heard both national and local pastors preach and teach over Family Radio.  However, over the last several years, White writes that ?Harold Camping has chosen to pit himself against the entire church, proclaiming that God has destroyed the church, that the era of the church is finished, and that the only means God uses to evangelize the world is Family Radio ?and ministries like it.?  Camping spends much of his on-air time explaining to listeners why they should leave their churches, abandon the oversight of elders, stop using the ordinances (baptism and the Lord?s Supper), and gather around their radios for ?fellowship? in the ?post-church age.?  He has declared that churches that once aired their worship services on the network must follow new rules.  They can no longer call themselves churches on the program.  They cannot announce meeting times, and pastors cannot refer to themselves by that title on the air.  As a result, most have removed their services, leaving Family Radio a relative ghost town.?
  • Second, what is Camping?s theology of the church?  His ideas have not been published in a book.  There is one pamphlet, entitled ?Has the Church Age Come to an End?? that he published, but he has preached extensively on his radio stations on this topic.  Most importantly was a 13-part series on his new doctrine during the summer of 2001.  White quotes from this program and provides a succinct summary of the crux of Camping?s theology:  ?At the beginning of the final tribulation, God has a quick change in his action.  The beginning of the tribulation signified that the churches have ceased to be the means by which God plans to evangelize the world, and this is why it is great tribulation.  Remember in our last study we talked about, it?s a time of weeping.  It?s a time when we ought to be sorrowing in our hearts because we see the churches that should have known better, they have not turned away from wrong doctrines, and so finally God has removed the candlestick so they have a form of godliness, but they really deny the power of it.?  To Camping, the Holy Spirit is no longer in the church guiding, directing, blessing the preaching, giving divine authority to the proclamation of the Word, and especially applying the gospel in order for souls to be saved.  The church is thereby an ?empty shell.?  There are no more elders or deacons and no more divine authority in the church.  Further, the ordinances have been done away with.  White shows that ?Camping believes that baptism and the Lord?s Supper were ?ceremonial laws? that were given to the church alone.  Since the church age is gone, so are the ordinances.  There is to be no more baptism and celebration of the Lord?s Supper.?  What are Christians therefore to do?  Camping teaches that such precepts as a ?Sunday Sabbath? are valid and commands that believers are not to forsake ?the gathering together.?  But believers are to flee the local church and ?gather on Sundays, sing hymns, and listen to Family Radio together.  If there is a group, they can form a fellowship.  These fellowships, however, are to have no elders, deacons, or ordinances.  They are unorganized groups that simply meet for edification.?
  • Third, how did Camping arrive at such a bizarre set of teachings?  White offers an important insight:  ?There is one simple answer:  Unfettered, inconsistent, arbitrary, and, at times, incoherent allegorical interpretation of the text of Scripture.  Camping has long taught the view, popularized by Origen in the early church, that first sees a basic, literal meaning anyone can understand.  More important is the moral meaning, which requires more insight.  Most important is the ?real? meaning, or ?spiritual? meaning, which requires spiritual insight and knowledge.?  An example of how ludicrous Camping?s allegorical interpretative scheme has become, he has used the two witnesses of Revelation 11, Jerusalem and Judea, all of the Old Testament, Hezekiah?s life, and the boat the disciples used in John 21 as ?pictures? of the church.  As White so correctly observes, ?Allegorical interpretation destroys the authority of the text of Scripture.  No one using this method can honestly say, ?The Word of God says,? for their system replaces the meaning of the text (which is communicated through grammar, lexical meanings, context and background [called the literal-grammatical-historical method of interpretation] with the more-or-less relevant insights and imagination of the interpreter.?  The source of Scripture?s authority?the God-breathed text [2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:19-21] is replaced by the mere thoughts of men and women!!  Camping is proclaiming a false and dangerous set of teachings rooted in a provocative and treacherous interpretive scheme.  I am defending the very authority of Scripture, ?for a Bible that cannot communicate God?s truth consistently to each generation cannot be a solid foundation for the faith.?
  • Finally, a few closing thoughts.  Years ago, theologian Anthony Hoekema offered four disitincitves that can alert us to a set of false teachings:  1.  An extra-scriptural source of authority.  2.  The denial of justification by faith alone.  3.  The devaluation of Jesus Christ and His uniqueness.  4.  The group as the exclusive community of the saved.  The danger of Harold Camping and his teaching is that # 1 and # 4 seem to fit.  When his so-called prophecy about 21 May did not materialize, he did not apologize, nor did he concede it was false.  Instead, he offered that 21 May was actually a ?spiritual judgment day,? and the actual day of cataclysmic judgment will come on 21 October 2011!  As theologian Albert Mohler has observed, ?Harold Camping has refused all correction and all efforts to persuade him to cease his false teachings. . . He has received delegations of concerned theologians and major Christian leaders, but he has resisted all efforts and repudiated all accountability to the church.  He is a classic example of a false teacher and a false prophet, about which the Bible has much to say.?  He claims to have a ?secret? knowledge that has arisen from his allegorical interpretive scheme, has rejected all correction from the believing church and claims that ?he and he alone is right.?  Harold Camping is a very sad individual, who began well in his early radio ministry, serving many in the body of Christ.  But he is now leading countless people down the road of theological bankruptcy and heretical teachings.  It is God?s Word that sits in judgment of him and his false teachings.

See James R. White, ?Dangerous Airwaves:  Harold Camping?s Call to Flee the Church,? Christian Research Journal (25:1 [2002]); AlbertMohler.com (1 June 2011) and James P. Eckman, The Truth about Worldviews, p. 89. PRINT PDF

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4 Comments to “Harold Camping?s Theology of the Church”

  1. Ben Watson says:

    I have followed Harold Camping for 35 years and concur with your view of the Family Radio ministry and his view of the church, particularly its being based on a very bad hermanutic. I knew he was off base when I listened to his complete exposition of 1 Corinthians, probably about 30 years ago. I never dreamed he’d go down hill so badly. At first he seemed to me a mere classic a-millenialist. Now, even they won’t talk to him.

  2. Debbie Pedersen says:

    Dear Dr. Eckman,

    Thank you for your thorough research on this man and his history in ministry. His life is a convicting lesson on staying true to the Word, and listening to sound preaching and teaching. I pray that this excellent article will reach those people who are deceived by this false teaching.

  3. ajc says:

    Thank you for this summary – I appreciate the help in understanding how to think about this man and his teachers

  4. Vivi Morr says:

    Mr. Eckman,

    Your article was interesting but extremely weightless because you omitted key and critical scriptures (from the BIBLE) that state that the world will come to a time in which it will experience a “Great Apostasy”, a falling away of God’s so called people. No one in any church I have ever attended has every talked or discussed this bible mentioned fact. In my KJ Bible, 2 Thess. 2-12 the sub-heading on the chapter is titled “The Great Apostasy”. Read these verses and then address if they don’t explain that at some time (may be now or maybe 100 years from now…) there will come a time when God’s people will fall away and worship (in mass) satan. These verses don’t literally spell out this event, but it does not take a lot of effort to identify:

    1 – at what time do these verses reference: “the end times”
    2 – what do they say will happen? That there will be a falling away, and the man of sin will take his seat in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God, and being worshiped like he is God.

    Note — The “falling away” has to be of “christians” and not of the “worlds people”, because worldly people have never been a part of the christian lifestyle, and therefore, can not “fall away”. So in the Great Apostasy, who “falls away”? And who can the man of sin be but satan? Satan has always wanted to rule in the church, and during this very narrow period in time, he will be allowed to do so; and guess who allows him to rule there, GOD!!! Read vs 7 very carefullly. It says that the man of sin will rule in the house of God “ONLY AFTER HE [GOD] TAKES HIMSELF OUT OF THE WAY — God takes himself out of the way, and allows Stn this little season of reigning, as a test for his people. These verses, not so cryptically, say that God has been restraining this occurrence for precisely the time right before the end! 1 Tim 4:1-2 talk about the Great Apostasy as well.

    I am not saying that Camping is or is not a false prophet. I don’t know. I do know that he teaches that the churches have come to a time in which the bible describes as the “Great Apostasy”. Now, the question may be, whether that time is now — or later….. But this is for sure, no church is talking about a time that the bible itself describes as an apostasy of God’s people.

    The bible repeatedly tells us to “watch” for Christ’s return. The Great Apostasy is a big, critical sign that marks that the time is near. I think to be fair and unbiased in your view of the end times, you have to mention that the bible — and not Camping — surely says there comes a time when the Church itself is a dangerous place to be. And if that time is now, then Camping might just be right — but at least he has exposed 2 Thess 2, and 1 Tim 4, as a sinister time for the churches that they don’t want to admit will at some point in time exist. And that should be what is explored here.

    Did you know about the Great Apostasy? Did you know that the bible itself says that Stn would take his seat in the temple and be worshiped as if he was God? Did you know that he does this by showing tremendous powerful signs of wonders? He won’t be standing there with a pitch for and horns — he will be there as an angel of light — and he will mystify people with adoration. It is not just a single church occurence — it will be world wide. So I ask you Dr. Eckman, what do you know of the Great Apostasy — and what does 2 Thess 2:1-12 say to you?