Responding to False Prophets

One of the major shortcomings of contemporary Christianity is that we do not take things as seriously as the Bible does. We do not take sin very seriously, or future judgment, or hell, or false doctrine, etc. Indeed, we do not take God very seriously either. We are just far too blasé about these matters, whereas the biblical writers take them with the utmost seriousness.

Consider how so many Christians have responded to the recent case of blatant and gross false prophecy. Many believers are actually saying we should feel sorry for Harold Camping, or we should not be too hard on him, or we should just look at the bright side of all this.

What these believers do not seem to realise is the utter danger of false prophets, and the immense damage they can cause. They certainly harm believers. Consider the many tens of thousands of believers who got sucked in by this guy. Many sold their homes or possessions and abandoned jobs and loved ones, simply to await the end of the world.

But even worse than this, how many Christians will be so hurt, disillusioned and damaged by this, that they give up their Christian faith altogether? How many will renounce Christianity because of what this one false prophet did? And how many other Christians will be scarred by this, perhaps for life?

And consider also the enormous harm done to non-believers. How many non-Christians were even further driven away from the gospel because of this nut case? How many will be forever put off from considering the claims of Christ because of this false prophet?

Now I am not trying to make excuses for either believers or non-believers here. At the end of the day we will all have to stand before God and give an account. We will not be able to fully use Harold Camping – or anyone or anything else – as an excuse. But Camping will nonetheless have blood on his hands for all the damage he has done.

And it is not as if he did this innocently or quite by accident. He has been doing this for decades now. As I have mentioned elsewhere, back in 1992 he wrote a book called 1994? In it he made the exact same reckless and bold assertions. He said with full assurance, “When September 6, 1994 arrives, no one else can be saved, the end has come.”

The book was a best-seller at the time. But when the date came and went he had to do some recalculations, and said it would be mid-September. When that period came and went, he said it would be September 29. After another big no-show by Jesus Christ, he reset the date to October 2. Then he went for March 31, 1995.

He was a complete sham, fake, and phoney back then, and he still is. He was clearly a false prophet back then, and he still is. Yet incredibly he still has had hordes of brainless and unbiblical followers. And even after this latest fiasco, some of his followers are still defending the guy.

The truth of the matter is this: it is a good thing that Camping did not live in Old Testament times. Things were much more straight forward back then. A person who made a prediction which did not come to pass was considered to be a false prophet, and was dealt with accordingly.

Here is how Deuteronomy 18:20-22 puts it: “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death. You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

That is a pretty harsh penalty. It of course reflects the utter seriousness of the crime that was committed. Of course the OT capital crime penalties for ancient Israel are not in effect today, for which Camping can be most grateful. But nonetheless, the NT church is meant to engage in rigorous church discipline to weed out troublemakers and false prophets.

But there is even more material on false prophets found in Deuteronomy that is worth considering. Yahweh makes it clear that even if a word does come to pass, that in itself is not enough either. See what is found in Dt. 13:1-5:

“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.”

Once again we find the harshest of penalties for a very serious offence. And once again, in NT times we deal with the punishment differently, but we should still consider the offense to be just as bad. Indeed, Paul for example made it quite clear that those who preach false doctrine should be accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).

This is in line with other NT teachings. Jesus and the apostles did not regard false teaching to be any less important than did the writers in the OT. The damage false teachers and false prophets can cause is often inestimable. We must regard it with all seriousness.

The Christian community should have taken a very strong stance on Camping back in the 1990s. Perhaps some did. But the fact that he has been allowed to continue with a worldwide multi-million dollar ministry shows that something is quite amiss.

Why is the church unable or unwilling to deal with such blatant falsehood within its own ranks? Why do we simply shrug our shoulders when false prophets are leading people astray and putting in jeopardy the souls of so many people?

Of course the aim of church discipline in the NT is always restoration, wherever and whenever possible. Whether Camping is beyond that point or not remains to be seen. But if he is open to restoration, the first and only step available to him is repentance.

Then he must submit himself to a body of believers where he will be held accountable for what he says and does. He should not be allowed to continue as a lone ranger, destroying the flock of God in the process. He must humble himself and publicly acknowledge his sin, and all the harm he has caused.

By all means keep Mr Camping in prayer. He certainly needs it. But at the same time, we must not for one minute seek to minimise or ignore the very strong stance the biblical writers – in both Testaments – take on the issue of false prophets, false teachers and the like.

[1281 words]

30 Replies to “Responding to False Prophets”

  1. Camping certainly knows what he’s up to, he’s got all the arguments and rhetoric to support his position. Reading the “Facts about May 21, 2011” page (http://www.familyradio.com/facts/) on the website, he is convincing but clearly unBiblical – as those who know the Bible will realise. Reading it, it’s easy to see how ignorant Christians could be sucked in.

    I guess my biggest question is, how does the church deal with this?* I know it’s happened with others, but I believe most of those (I’m thinking of Todd Bentley in particular) were already connected with other leaders, whereas Camping seems to be a bit of a lone wolf.

    *I’m asking this seriously, not rhetorically – I really have no idea how something like this is handled.

    Kathy Scott

  2. What this boils down to is someone who claims to know more than Jesus.
    Marcus Anderson

  3. I guess I’m also asking, how would something like this be put in motion? It seems to me that this is the sort of thing which many church leaders will shake their head about, and say that something needs to be done, but each will wait for someone else to take the first step.

    At least in the Catholic Church there is a hierarchy of authority, and it’s clear who should deal with issues like this. But in Pentecostal circles it isn’t so clear.

    Matt 18:15-17 is how it should be done, but if no one initiates the process, then Camping is left free to predict at will.

    Kathy Scott

  4. Thanks again Kathy

    At the very least he should have some independent peers who he is held accountable to. Any humble follower of Christ will gladly submit to some mutual accountability group and maintain regular fellowship, and not go off in lone wolf fashion.

    And as you might be aware, simply having a structure in place as does the Catholic Church is no guarantee that renegade priests and others will not be running around doing their own thing, bringing disrepute to the church. All decent Protestant denominations should have structures in place for dealing with dissident members.

    But of course anyone can just go off and do his own thing, and refuse to be accountable to anyone, especially if he can gather around him a big following that is gullible and quite happy to send big bucks his way.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Thank you, Bill.

    Unfortunately, it seems that Camping belongs in the latter category, especially considering his age: in 89 years he must have been confronted at least once!!!

    Amazingly, I have no more questions for the time being! =)

    Kathy Scott

  6. To be a Bride, it is usual to have a close relationship with the Groom, surely! If you have not read His Word, you cannot possibly have a close relationship with Him. Christ will not allow anyone in to His Bridal Feast who doesn’t even know Him! He is not only the Way and the Life, He is also the Truth. People who aspire to be part of the Bride need to be searchers after the Truth. Nominal Christians will not gain entrance. Perhaps God is allowing false prophets to function as a method of weeding out the sheep from the goats? He will, after all, send a strong delusion in the end times. (see 2 Thess.2:10-12 and 1 Kings 22:22).
    Jeannie Crooks

  7. In the absence of Kathy’s questions, may I ask one?
    You mentioned in your article, Bill that in NT times we do not promote capital punishment. Why? America still has capital punishment in some states, usually for murder. But in the OT, there are several sins mentioned that are ‘worthy of death” and each time the phrase “that the evil may be cleansed from the land” follows the instruction. As we know, the prominent religion in a nation determines the general direction of laws of the state as well, it is impossible to think other wise contrary to what the secular humanists try to tell us. So, Christianity has shaped the laws in the west just like Hinduism and Buddhism have shaped them in Asia and Islam shapes them in the middle east and other predominantly Muslim nations. This is because a Worldview has a political as well as a theological and philosophical economic component, etc. So, back to the question. If Christianity has shaped our laws in the past and capital punishment was part of that, how do we determine that this has stopped with OT times?, biblically I mean?
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  8. Thanks Ursula

    But I did not say “in NT times we do not promote capital punishment”. I did say, “the OT capital crime penalties for ancient Israel are not in effect today”. The two are different. As far as capital punishment goes, it was instituted by God before Israel existed, and it not negated in the NT. So as far as the state goes, the death penalty is still in effect, and it is part of how evil is punished.

    But what I was referring to were the 24 or so crimes in the OT which merited the death penalty for ancient Israel. These include not just false prophecy, but blasphemy, adultery, witchcraft, and so on. The church is not ancient Israel, and the laws of Israel are not transferred to the church today, at least certainly not their penalties. Today the church deals with sin, while the state deals with crime. The two can overlap, but they are still different. Today the church deals with extreme cases of sin with excommunication, not the death penalty.

    I hope this helps to explain things somewhat. But you ask some good questions, and raise some important issues.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. Bill,

    I also wonder if part of it is the fact that given the 30000+ Protestant denominations, that there’s a certain acceptance of this type of thing because it’s hard to discriminate between true churches, small C, given that for most Protestants, the only true church, big C, is invisible and not to be discovered here. So, if he’s not messing with the basic justification economies that are popular enough amongst the 30000, people aren’t going to bat an eye. Plenty of early church types were awaiting the second coming, even some of the apostles seemed to be expecting it.

    Add that to the popularity of the pre-millennial Left Behind series and all of a sudden you’ve got a fringe group that shouldn’t be worthy of any news making the news not just because it’d be of human interest, but it makes an easy target to say, as many now have, look at those dumb Christians.

    The sin of Church disunity is seriously hurting our efforts in this world.

    Sean Mac

  10. Thanks Sean

    But the question is, how do you deal with the problem of disunity? There are all sorts of unhelpful and even unbiblical ways to deal with it. And as I mentioned, even the relatively unified structures of say the Catholic or Orthodox world by no means prevent problems, schisms, heresies, rebellion, dissent, division, and so on.

    I think God is far too big and great and majestic to be contained in any one denomination or church. So there can be a place for diversity in the body. Diversity is not the same as disunity. But these are big issues which I have addressed elsewhere. See for example:
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/03/16/on-truth-and-unity-part-one/
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/03/16/on-truth-and-unity-part-two/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. Bill, you ask “Why is the church unable or unwilling to deal with such blatant falsehood within its own ranks?”

    Like Kathy, I wonder what the church can realistically do. Camping is a maverick, he answers to no one but himself. He is not part of any church denomination, so he cannot be excommunicated. He has no pastor or bishop over him who can crack down on him. Nobody has the jurisdiction to go in and shut down his ministry.

    It would be nice if: “At the very least he should have some independent peers who he is held accountable to.” But he doesn’t, and no one can make him.

    When someone goes totally rogue like this, it seems the wider church is powerless to do anything except warn people not to follow him.

    Jereth Kok

  12. Thanks Jereth

    Yes I am with you. My questions were more rhetorical than anything. My real concerns have to do with what I started my article off with. Why do we not take these things much more seriously? Why do we seem to ignore or minimise what Scripture plays up? Why is it that it is always just business as usual for so much of the church, instead of a fire burning in our bellies for the glory of God, and overwhelming grief when we see his name once again being dragged in the mud?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Hi Kathy, Ursula and Jereth,

    God has instituted several forms of human government each with their own sphere of sovereignty. These are the individual (self government), the family, the church and the state. Bill has spoken about the limits of church authority here.

    I believe an understanding of the OT civil law called ‘Theonomy’ makes most sense of the Bible. This understanding sees that the OT civil laws are still applicable for civil governments today. If someone like Camping removes himself from the sphere of church authority, then he is still subject to the civil laws. Civil governments should enforce these and Christians should use every opportunity we have to vote and lobby our leaders to return to God’s role for the state.

    If you interested in finding out more about Theonomy, then I recommend authors such as Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary DeMar.

    Mansel Rogerson

  14. Thanks Mansel

    The discussion about the place of the law, and the continuity between the Testaments, is a massive one, and will not here be resolved. For what it is worth, I am working on a set of articles on Theonomy, so that would be the proper place to debate these matters once they are posted.

    Just a very brief comment here. This discussion has to do with false prophets, and many would think it rather scary indeed if a secular state were to weigh into these matters, adjudicating on matters of theological orthodoxy in terms of civil law, and handing down penalties. Whether it is the federal government in Washington, or the state government in Sacramento, they should not be the ones to sit in judgment on Mr Camping’s views.

    But as I say, these are mega-topics with tons of complexity and nuance, so they had better be debated when I start to offer my articles on this topic. And even then we will just be skimming the surface on what are some really deep and multi-layered topics which Christians have been debating for centuries.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  15. Thanks Bill,

    I look forward to your upcoming articles.

    But the powers God gave to the state with regard to ‘adjudicating on matters of theological orthodoxy’ are extremely limited. The ‘prophet’ does have to announce that a future event or sign is explicitely from God and then get it wrong in either of two ways. I can’t think of many people being affected by this, except deceivers like Camping.

    Mansel Rogerson

  16. Thank you Bill for setting me straight on my misinterpretation of what you said in your article re OT penalties not being in effect in today. I also appreciate what you said about the difference between crime and sin, sin going far deeper than crime and being the cause of crime and crime being the only thing man can judge, because it is the only visible evidence of sin.
    I still wonder though about the church being the continuation of Israel in the spiritual sense, aren’t we called “spiritual Israel?” Therefore, I thought that biblically both the laws and penalties were transferable. they can only be enforced of course if the values of the state coincide with those of the church either through consent as in a democracy or authority as in the times when all became at least nominally Christian their king or overlord became Christian. I am very taken with the time of king Alfred in the 800’s in England
    I am looking forward to your articles on theonomy.
    Many blessings,
    Ursula Bennett

  17. Thanks again Mansel

    As I say, proper debate on this should only proceed when a lot of the groundwork has first been covered. You and I may know a bit about theonomy, but many readers would not. So for their sakes, we may wait till then.

    But a brief reply if I may. It is not at all clear how “extremely limited” things would be, but let’s just take what you have said. If by “two ways” you mean the two Deuteronomy passages, then are we really to have secular legislators determining who and how one is led away from God? And which God do we mean here? Allah? Vishnu? Yahweh? And will Obama, or the US Supreme Court, or Schwarzenegger, or Jerry Brown, or the Oakland City Council decide these matters of theological orthodoxy?

    And if secularists will obviously not be up to speed here, are we suggesting that to get this right, only Christian legislators, judges, politicians and rulers be allowed in Sacramento, or Washington, or Canberra, etc? And if so, which Christians? Only Protestants? Only Baptists? Only post-mil Baptists. Only amil Calvinists? And who determines this? And how are their theological credentials to be assessed?

    The truth is, while theonomy raises a number of important issues, and reminds us of often neglected themes, the working out of theonomy today is loaded with all sorts of major problems. Indeed, the theonomists themselves are bitterly divided on all sorts of practical issues as to how all this is to be applied today. We would need a whole new set of scribes just to determine how to deal with the many questions which arise.

    So it is a good theory, but in application it is loaded with numerous problems. But as I say, wait till I get some of the introductory articles up, otherwise we will have to rehash a lot of material which I hope to cover there.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. Thanks Ursula

    Actually the misunderstand was probably due to me not being clear enough in the first place.

    As to Israel and the church, this is also a part of this discussion, and this is also something on which billions of words have been written. So a short comment here cannot do it justice. And again, Christians disagree on these matters. Some see Israel as having been completely overtaken or replaced by the church today, others see it as still part of God’s program, others see things differently again. And how the OT laws carry over is a matter of huge debate. Can we divide the law into moral, civil, and ceremonials aspects, eg? If so, which ones still apply? As I said, there are plenty of mega-questions here, and even if I wrote 5 entire articles on all this (as I hope to do) I will only just scratch the surface of this major debate. So brief comments can only go so far here I am afraid. But it is all good stuff and these are all important issues and well worth thinking about.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  19. Thanks Bill,

    I don’t deny there are real questions and difficulties with applying theonomy (as there is with everything in a fallen world). But I think theonomy provides the best (but not perfect) alternative to what we have now: rampant atheistic governments illegitimately expanding the proper limits of civil governement and crazies like Camping completely free to deceive at will.

    You raise many specific (rhetorical?) questions in your reply to me. But I will do as you suggest and wait for your future articles on the subject.

    Mansel Rogerson

  20. Thanks for that Mansel. Much appreciated.

    And no, they are not rhetorical questions at all. Unless those sorts of questions (and many more like them) can be very carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully and biblically answered, we can’t even begin to discuss the merits or otherwise of implementing theonomy today in mainly secular nations like Australia or America.

    Of course most theonomists would agree that until a nation becomes mainly Christian through responding to the gospel message, we cannot even begin to implement these laws, provided we even know which laws we want to bring over from the OT. But to talk about a largely Christianised America or Australia is presumably not the stuff of years ahead, but perhaps centuries. So the theonomist project is a long term project indeed, as Rushdoony and others so readily admit. It will not and cannot happen overnight in other words. That is why Christian Reconstructionism is so often closely tied in with postmillennial eschatology, although some are in fact amillennialists.

    But those issues too then become another major theological battleground for debate. So as I say, the complexities and many levels of this debate are absolutely enormous and far ranging, and all sorts of prior questions have to be addressed before we can get into the specifics of a theonomist program of government today.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  21. Bill,

    I quite agree. It is likely to be a very long-term project indeed; but I don’t see that that diminishes its importance whether or not one is postmil. And national revivals of the past do show that God turns nations around quite quickly sometimes.

    I think we need to have carefully thought through the types of questions you raise (which I think there are good answers to from a theonomic perspective) so that we are ready if and when our nation is ready to elect Godly men as civil leaders.

    Mansel Rogerson

  22. I see that Mr Camping has now revised the date of the apocalypse to October 21. How can people continue to be fooled by this charlatan?
    Apocalypse now in October, preacher says

    I think there is a role for the secular state here. Camping is a televangelist running a commercial business that “sells” Christianity, and by all accounts he has become a very rich man in the process. If in carrying out that business he has defrauded people by engaging in deceptive conduct, there is a legitimate role for the state to prosecute him under trade practices or fair trading law. I’d like to see that.

    Jennifer Corbett, Vic

  23. Those who do not obey Old Testament Laws are still under condemnation – that is unless they accept that Jesus Christ has taken that condemnation on Himself. People can either pay the cost of breaking these laws themselves, after they die, or allow Christ to pay the penalty now. But someone pays the price.

    As for our laws being prescribed solely by Christians, in other words being imposed on a nation, this is not how Christianity works. Christians have to get involved in politics. We have set up our stall in the market place and contest our beliefs. We have to persuade people so that they willing choose one course of action rather than another. But what we have at present is the opposite of that. Secularists politicians and judges are imposing their godless laws on us without any reference to us.

    The vast majority of the British population are, if not asleep, then indifferent to the fact that the government, since 2006 has successfully forced through a mountain of legislation that inevitably seems to be irreversible. The manner in which it has been hidden, the way in which it continues to be speedily debated and voted on, demonstrate a terrifying contempt of the parliamentary system. If the palpable censorship that has been demonstrated during disgracefully short debates, on such things as the Sexual Orientation Regulations, gay adoption, freedom of speech and gay marriage, on this scale in the Houses Parliament, what hope can there be for those of us living outside Parliament

    As more and more of our speech and thought are becoming proscribed by the machinery of political correctness, it is becomes necessary for our secularist governments to legislate, with even greater intensity ever detail of our lives. Maybe this is precisely why the government is in process of gathering every single detail of our lives so that it can the more easily control us…

    Let us not forget how Christianity came to Britain. It came about by courageous men, armed with nothing more than the Bible. I love this story.

    http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/bede/bl-bede-2-13.htm

    David Skinner, UK

  24. All prophets are false prophets. Nobody can claim to have an ultimate and absolute truth.
    Terry Yarborough

  25. Hearing all the anticipated difficulties that theonomy could potentially pose if we tried to implement it, makes me think that maybe there is a place for a state religion – state church after all? 🙂 Maybe the kings of old had it easier after all, only having one archbishop to advise them?
    A person who could give excellent impute into this discussion would be David Mitchell from Tasmania, his health permitting. He has been until last year a regular contributor to Daniel 2:44 conference. Last year Geoffrey Ventrella was the main speaker and he will be again this year. He launched from Romans 1:18 to 21 I think to give us an understanding of the dynamics of what happens when Christians leave a vacuum in the market place.
    Many blessings,
    Ursula Bennett

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