By Nathan Jones
Has Harold Camping created a cult?
On Saturday, October 8, 2011, I was interviewed by host Brian Thomas of Blessings to Israel Ministries on their "God First" program. During the hour long interview we discussed the many failed attempts of date-setters to declare an accurate date for the Lord's return, especially concerning Harold Camping as his October 21, 2011, end of the world deadline approaches.
Reinventing Matthew 24
Brian Thomas: In Matthew 24:36 Jesus Christ stated that only the Father knows the date of His return. Now, for Harold Camping, how does he reconcile this? How does he make the Scripture coexist with his date setting theory considering that Jesus Christ said that only the Father knows the date of His return?
Nathan Jones: Camping believes that was a temporal command for a temporal reality. God alone knew, but that was only for a limited amount of time. Now Camping knows! As a matter of fact, you can go to Camping's website at wecanknow.com and see a scrolling bunch of verses at the top of the page. Each one is about how God will give us this understanding of the return date in the end times. The site has Nehemiah 8:8 which says He causes them to understand the reading. Also, Luke 24:45 explains how He open their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. Another one on the site is Isaiah 30:20, "Yea shall not thou teachers be removed into a corner anymore, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers."
Camping got his view from these misapplied scriptures that in the end times just before Jesus comes that a certain group of people will be given the knowledge that Jesus said only the Father has. Supposedly our eyes will be opened. Now, of course, who is the person whose eyes are opened? It's not everybody; its only Harold Camping. Ta-da! He's the one. Camping just takes these verses well out of context. He's developed his idea that the knowledge about the return of Christ is his and his alone to interpret. God has given him this special blessing of understanding so that the world can know when Jesus is returning, but only through Harold Camping.
Creation of a Cult
Brian Thomas: You said that you believe that what we see here going on with Harold Camping is the emergence of a new cult leader for that is what cult leaders do. They will often spiritualize Scripture in order to brainwash their followers into believing in the things that they are teaching. Here's a clip of what Harold Camping's response was following the failed prediction of May 21, taken on May 22nd by the BBC News.
Harold Camping: We were convinced that on May 21 our God would return here in a very physical way, that is by bringing a great earthquake and by ushering the final five months of the Day of Judgment. And, the fact is when we look at it spiritually we find that He did come. He did come. Now, let me back up, the fact is you are going to find out that I am going to be saying there isn't a new date. There's not a new date. We've already been talking again and again about the end of the world being October 21, in 2011, October 21, but we have not emphasized that because of the first down payment or the beginning of it was the fact that we would see all these things happening and usher into a five month period of very, very terrible times.
Reporter: Are you willing to publicly apologize for what you have said about May 21, for your mistake?
Harold Camping: I can if people want me to apologize, I can apologize, yes. I did not have all of that worked out as accurately as I should have, or I wished I could have had it. That doesn't bother me at all, because I am not a genius, and I pray all the time for wisdom and when I make an error, I say, "Yes, I was wrong." I have said that already more than several times tonight. I was wrong. It was to be understood spiritually, not physically, and yet the sense of it is still the same: That judgment has come. Your world is now under judgment where it was not prior to May 21. Spiritually there is a big difference in the world that we can't detect at all with our eyes, but we can know from the Bible.
Brian Thomas: So what do you say, Nathan? Sound like a cult leader to you?
Nathan Jones: Oh, absolutely!
Before the May deadline we had James Walker of Watchman Fellowship at our ministry. James is great. His whole ministry is about dealing with the cults. He was actually a fourth generation Mormon until he studied and realized that Mormonism is a cult. James listed four ways to define a cult and if I might read them:
- They add to God's Word with new Scripture.
- They subtract from who Jesus is.
- They multiply the requirements for salvation.
- They divide their follower loyalty.
So, if you are asking if Harold Camping is a cult leader, based on that criteria I would say definitely. Under number one, the idea that only he has special knowledge from God and he knows the date and time despite what the Bible says and he adds to his Scripture with all his interpretations that are clearly not contextual, then yes he falls under that first definition of a cult.
Does Camping subtract from Jesus? Yes, I would say he does that, too. In one of his books he says that the Archangel Michael is the Lord Jesus Christ. The book is The End of the Church Age and After which Camping put out in 2002. If you want to find that quote it's written on page 56. He even claims that Jesus isn't just the divine Father, and though he does attribute divinity to Jesus, he says he is the Archangel Michael which is a very cultish thing to claim.
Does Camping multiply the requirements for salvation? After he said that God washed his hands of the Church in 1988, he deemed afterwards that every church denomination out there was apostate because there shouldn't be any more churches. What he did was call for all people to leave their churches and join his ministry. It is not a church per se, but they do things like church. They get together, they worship, and they do everything else a church does, but by any other name, right? Still, he calls it a ministry. So, if you join his family ministry then you are good and you will be saved, but if you go to these other churches like the Baptist or Methodist or Lutheran or whatever, then you are not saved. That is a very cultic claim right there. Cults always claim that they have special knowledge and you have to join them in order to be saved.
Also what cults do is they divide their follower's loyalties, as James Walker said, and clearly he is doing that. He is telling people to leave their churches, to leave their fathers, and to put their faith in him and not their faith in Jesus Christ per se. That is a very cultic philosophy as well. So, if we go by Watchman's Fellowship's four definitions of a cult, then I would say, yes, he follows every single one of them to a "T."
Brian Thomas: I agree about Camping dividing peoples loyalties. That reminded me of a report of a lady I think who on May 2nd passed away. When her will was read it was found that she had actually left $350,000 to Harold Camping's ministry and left absolutely nothing to her family. That is indeed another sign of a cult leader.
Shaking Down Their Followers
Nathan Jones: Definitely! Sadly, with cults it always comes down to money. There is always some bottom dollar figure that they are trying to get to, and they will keep people strung along for their money.
Now, I have to admit that Harold Camping is a different odd bird. People could really see after the May 21st date this year came and passed that there was just something wrong with him. He looked physically shaken, like there was something wrong about May 21st ending up uneventful. I don' t know his heart, but I truly believe that Harold Camping genuinely believes in all his numbers and figures and that he is especially assigned by God to have special insight into all this reserved information.
But, it's true, most of the cults exploit God for their own personal gain. They're in it for the money. You can even see that pattern in the Old Testament when all the false prophets would come and mislead the people. They pretended to speak for God for the wealth or fame or power. It is a sad thing. In this case, there is definitely a financial side to what Harold Camping is doing, and a very lucrative financial side at that.
Brian Thomas: Yes, exactly. Another characteristic you often see with cults are suicides. Unfortunately, in 1994 after Camping's failed prediction, a man committed suicide. Then this year there was a 47 year old lady in Southern California who attempted suicide by slitting the wrist and throat of her 11 and 14 year old daughters. Fortunately, someone found them before they bleed to death, but that is again another sign of a cult leader when you see people committing suicide as a result of their teachings.
Nathan Jones: It brings me back to those horrible pictures of Jim Jones. They all drank the Kool-Aid and when people came and found the camp there were Jones' followers dead all over the place.
A number of years back if you remember there was a cult out in California who thought a space ship was coming to take them away. They were all sitting on their suitcases ready to go, but when it didn't happen they all killed themselves. That was the real sad thing story.
People today and I guess people throughout all the generations want hope. They want to know that this earth isn't all there is. And so, they will put their faith whole-heartedly into everything but the Bible, or maybe in something quasi-Bible. And when some prediction doesn't happen just like with William Miller's The Great Disappointment, despair is what they get in return. They get sucker punched by their great disappointment and declare, "My leader has betrayed me! The Lord has betrayed me!" And, what hope do they have after that? They feel like there is no future and ask, "What can I believe?" Either they become despondent or they lose all faith in God altogether, or even worse they kill themselves. That is such a sad thing. I can't imagine the severity of judgment that will fall on these false prophets when they stand before God one day.
Brian Thomas: Oh, you are so right there. And, the ones who don't commit suicide, well a lot of them will probably never trust a pastor again. They will turn away from Christianity altogether, which that is a sad thing to do. For these cult leaders who are causing people to turn away from Christ, yes, I think there is definitely a great judgment awaiting them for some time in the future.
Nathan Jones: These false teachers, when it comes to teaching about judgment themselves, get that wrong as well. For instance, Harold Camping teaches in his book The End of the Church Age and After that when an unbeliever dies he will be judged by God and then be annihilated, so he doesn't even teach about Hell. Rob Bell also came out with a book recently that teaches that there is no Hell. Cults will try to teach you that there is no punishment for your sins that is going to be terribly bad. I mean, really, nothing is bad about annihilation. Atheist also have that desire to just wink out of existence and be annihilated.
But, the Bible teaches very prolifically about the reality Hell. We're told it's a place of eternal punishment. It is a place where you are separated from God and so you are lonely. It is dark and you can't see anything. It's where you have this feeling of falling all the time. It has this awful smell. There you exist trapped with you regrets. Great pain comes with being sentenced there, for it is called Torment. It is called the Lake of Fire for a reason, as there is burning and suffering. Hell is very real, and yet in our society today we have kind of pushed Hell off as a joke or a place where Satan is ruling, which is not the case. Hell was originally created for Satan and his demons according to Matthew 25:41.
These false teachers give people a universal false hope in Heaven, but also steal away their understanding that their sins matters. There is Hell to pay for our rebellion against God, for without accepting Jesus' sacrifice on their behalf we are all still under God's wrath and sentence to the Lake of Fire, as John 3:36 warns us. It bothers me how cults steal the reality of Hell away from those who are lost.
In the (very? ;) last part of this series "Deadline October 21," Brian and I will look to October 21, 2011 as being the end of the world, or not.