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.