Diary from Mission Springs Family Radio conference
July 13-18, 2001
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Dear friends, diary
The conference at Mission Springs was a mixed experience, compared to past years. This was our fourteenth consecutive year that we have attended since we have been married, and Janet attended for a number of years before that.
On the one hand, the fellowship and renewal of friendships was as wonderful as ever, after a year’s hiatus. My dear mother, who lives in ********, joined us and was able to visit with people she hadn’t seen since A.D. 1987, when she retired and moved away from the *****. A lot of people didn’t know that she was coming, and it was a pleasant surprise for all.
On the other hand, the absence of both an outside speaker and Pastor Jack Van Dyken, the noticeably reduced number of attendees (about a hundred less than last year), and particularly the prominence of Mr. Camping’s continuing emphasis on the theme, "the church is dead" with the ensuing rump sessions, overshadowed the entire conference. The atmosphere was noticeably subdued.
Within hours of our arrival, prior to the beginning of the first Open Forum session on Friday evening July 13, **** and I found ourselves in a lively exchange with Mr. Camping which was protracted enough to delay the beginning of that meeting. It began innocently enough, with Mr. Camping asking how things were going and us telling him that we believed that our church was still quite faithful and that we had no intention of leaving. Leaving out a lot of words,
"Does your minister teach that divorce for fornication is acceptable?"
"Then your church has its high places, and it’s dead."
"How can you say that? You’ve never been to our church. Our minister is not perfect, but he is a-mil and he most definitely understands salvation and sovereign grace. You don’t know all that he teaches, and you can’t deem a church to be dead by using a litmus test consisting of a single doctrinal issue. Besides, they are very tolerant of me and others believing and even being outspoken that there are no Biblical grounds for divorce."
"I can say that because it’s very obvious that your minister has placed the Westminster Confession over the Bible. Therefore, he has his high places. God is very clear that the time will come when he will no longer tolerate high places, and that time is now. God has removed the candlestick. Your church is dead."
"Mr. Camping, I have discussed the issue of divorce and remarriage at some length with our minister. He believes what he does, not because of the confession, but because after his own careful study, he believes that this is what the Bible teaches. I don’t agree with him because his conclusion is wrong, but he is also very emphatic that officebearers should be allowed to take exceptions to the Westminster Standards because otherwise we would be placing them above God’s Word. How can you say that our church is dead and not the Reformed Bible Church of Alameda? It has its high places, too, and so does Family Radio. What makes you and your high places any different from our church’s?"
Break! We’re late getting Open Forum started!
Whew! And within hours of our arrival, our Bible conference / annual family vacation is off to an interesting beginning.
Mind you, we went to the conference skeptical of this new teaching, but also very sincerely to try to see what Biblical merit it might have. We felt that hearing it from Mr. Camping firsthand would be the best and most fair way to evaluate it, especially with him being available for questions.
Mr. Camping made one statement as he began his very first Bible teaching session, by way of introducing a controversial topic, that disturbed me considerably:
"Why discuss such a negative topic, a controversial issue that is sure to make a lot of people upset? We could have picked a bland topic like salvation, and everyone would have been a lot happier …"
Due to the time that I spent addressing other issues, related below, I never was able to follow this up, but is has weighed heavily on my mind for obvious reasons. Salvation is anything but a bland topic. It is the heart and soul of God’s message for a fallen world, and it is exciting, and God is continually showing us the same old story in new and refreshing ways. Hopefully it was only a bad choice of words on his part and not well thought out beforehand.
Mr. Camping’s series of classes was an attempt to demonstrate how the account in John 21 supports the latter rain / "the church is dead" teaching. We listened carefully, took notes, and though we tried very hard to find merit in his explanations, we came away more convinced than ever that this new doctrine is untenable. For one instance, he made much of the difference in the two Greek words used in the New Testament for "ship" vs. "little ship" or "boat", that is, "ploion" vs. "ploiarion", to support his teaching. The latter word is simply a diminutive of the former, which he did acknowledge. I don’t want to try to explain all of the lessons in this letter, especially since I am sure that it will be aired on Family Radio, sooner rather than later. More to the point, the proposition became more and more far-fetched as the lessons went on, which would make it all the more difficult for someone who does not buy into it, such as myself, to rehearse it to another. If after studying it yourself you think that you see anything that we missed, please let us know.
I asked questions at three of the evening Open Forums. I had no intention of asking any. I go to conferences like Mission Springs to sit and learn, not to critique. This conference was different, though. A lot of people there were very upset, not only about "the church is dead" teaching, but that Family Radio programming is now rife with it. However, no one else seemed to feel comfortable enough to speak up. It began when one of the questions received a response that I could not in good conscience let pass by unchallenged.
On Saturday evening, July 14, a dear lady asked him of Hebrews 10:25 -
<Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.>
"Doesn’t this verse teach that we are to assemble together in our churches, assuming that they haven’t become false gospels, right up until the time of Christ’s return?"
"No. If you’ll notice, God does not use the word ‘church’ in that verse. Rather, this verse actually underscores that during the time of the latter rain, when the church has become dead and God has removed its candlestick, we are indeed to continue to gather together, but not in churches. We could be in our homes listening to Family Radio as it brings the latter rain …" etc. etc.
(I must note that all quotes in this letter are the gist of what was said, to the best of my imperfect memory. The Open Forums were recorded, and copies may perhaps be available. I wish that I had one as I write this so that I could quote accurately.)
I felt constrained to pursue this. The format for these Open Forums was that the person asking the question was required to walk to the front of the meeting room and speak into a stationary microphone on a stand directly in front of Mr. Camping. I waited my turn, then noted the following:
"First, the entire context or backdrop for the book of Hebrews is in a worship setting, that is, a church setting, seeking to show the reader that the Old Testament sacrificial system and method of worship was fulfilled in and by the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly what we read in the book of Hebrews has far greater implications than just the worship service, but this setting cannot be ignored.
"More specifically, we read in Hebrews 2:11-12,
11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,
12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
"The word ‘church’ in verse 12 is the same commonly used Greek word ‘ekklesia’. Isn’t it therefore at least possible that Hebrews 10:25 could be referring to a church setting?"
His answer was not exactly evasive, but while he couldn’t (and didn’t) deny the clear implications of my question, he insisted that in all probability, even though worship and the church are referred to a number of times in the book of Hebrews, the setting for Hebrews 10:25 was the time of the latter rain, especially given that there is quite a distance between the two verses in question.
After this, many thanked me privately for speaking up against this teaching in a way that made sense. I really love those people at the conferences. They are true brothers and sisters. Most are so shy that if they can manage to ask a question at all in a public setting like that, there is no way that they could do so and take issue even a little bit with what is taught. I barely can.
I reflected upon the issue of Hebrews 10:25 awhile. My question that evening was raised on the spur of the moment, at which times we may or may not be able to order what we want to say as well we could. That was certainly the case here. I re-opened the issue at the Open Forum on the evening of Monday, July 16, along with two others, one of which is particularly significant.
I said that I would like to re-visit Hebrews 10:25, first by recapping what was said previously. I began by noting that we had agreed that the context or setting of the entire book of Hebrews included the worship service, and by implication, the church. He interrupted me at that point and said, "Excuse me - that is the conclusion that you reached and stated. We never agreed that this is so."
I was quite surprised, but said, "That is how I remember it, but let’s grant that it is my observation and not ours. For sure, the church is clearly in view in Hebrews 2:11-12," and proceeded to read those verses aloud. I then noted that in Hebrews 13, there are three clear references to the church, as we read in verse 7 -
<Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.>
And in verse 9 -
<Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.>
And in verse 24 -
<Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.>
The fact that those who have "the rule over you" must be in the church cannot be missed. For example, in verse 7, these cannot be civil government rulers because of the next phrase: "who have spoken unto you the word of God".
I noted that since Hebrews 10:25 is bracketed by very clear references to the church, then the likelihood that "the assembling of ourselves together" refers to the church is very strong, indeed, and should be carefully considered.
I made a second observation to underscore how tenuous this matter of the latter rain is. "Not just one, but two major conclusions derived from the Bible must be absolutely correct, like trying to throw a rock through not just one piece of plywood with a hole, but two pieces of plywood, and both holes must line up just right. The first major conclusion is that we are indeed in the Final Tribulation. The second is that you are absolutely correct about the latter rain and "the church is dead", which would require that all of us would need to leave our congregations.
"The stakes are very high. This is not just a doctrinal discussion. We all learned firsthand from the events leading up to and during 1994 and afterwards that there are problems and difficulties that accompany trying to set dates, even when you have the best and most sincere minds trying to figure it all out. Now, with these two issues, if you are wrong on either one of them, then you will have people jumping ship, from God’s kingdom into Satan’s, before the right time, assuming that you are right on both issues."
[The next day, someone mentioned to me that when I made reference to 1994, Mr. Camping’s body language exhibited a definite change of composure. I hadn’t noticed, being too absorbed in looking at my Bible. This effect on him was by no means my intent of raising these issues, I assure you. When it was my turn at the microphone, I spoke to and of him respectfully. However, it was an Open Forum, and he is the one who will need to deal with challenges to his teachings.]
I then went on to raise a question about a very crucial verse, a verse upon which, I have come to realize, the entire teaching of the latter rain / "the church is dead" rises or falls. That verse is Revelation 11:11.
I stated that this verse clearly teaches the rapture of the believers at the end of time, and that this was what he formerly taught. He affirmed and emphasized, "used to teach".
I then stood there and read the entire passage in context, from verses 10 through 17 without comment, then asked, "With so many clear references to both the rapture and Judgment Day, how can this be anything but the end of time?"
His answer was that the language "stood up" in verse 11 matched similar language in two other passages of the Bible. In Acts 26:16, Paul is telling of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, wherein Jesus told him,
<But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;>
And from Ezekiel 2 –
1 And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.
2 And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me.
3 And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day.
"In both of these passages, the term ‘stood up’ is used in the context of sending forth the gospel, and therefore Revelation 11:11 is describing what is going on during the latter rain - the gospel going forth by electronic media such as Family Radio.
"As for the phrase ‘great fear fell upon them which saw them’ in verse 11, that’s how an unsaved person reacts when the gospel is presented to them and God begins to draw them." etc. etc.
I pointed out that "great fear fell upon them which saw them" in verse 11 is the same language as "the remnant were affrighted" in verse 13. [I didn’t have my Greek New Testament with me while I was standing there, but a quick examination of the text later showed that the same Greek word is used in both places – "phobia".] Both match what we read in Revelation 6:12-17, for one of many examples. I asked what Biblical basis he had for stating that the fear described in Revelation 11 verses 11 and 13 was due to anything other than one and the same event, that is, Judgment Day.
His treatment of my sincere question and these pivotal verses was axiomatic rather than analytical. His main basis was to simply re-state what he wished to prove. I was quite frustrated that he was completely sidestepping my question, and I sat down before he even finished his answer, realizing that further dialogue on this point would become a race track and wearisome to the other listeners. I do believe that he realizes that unless he drives a wedge between verses 11 and 12 of Revelation 11, and keeps the fear expressed in verse 11 clearly divorced from the fear of verse 13, his whole latter rain scheme will unravel.
You cannot imagine how I hate – yea, rather, loath – having to take such a firm stand with a dear, trusted Bible teacher whom God used to spiritually help to raise me from a pup. However, this issue is so serious that I felt like I had no choice. I had quite a number of questions left to ask, but with only one Open Forum remaining, I prayed for wisdom on which would be the most thought-provoking for Mr. Camping and most instructive to my brothers and sisters who were listening. I pared my list down to three.
I waited awhile, as I had done on previous occasions, for others to ask their questions first, the meanwhile devoting my conscious thoughts to prayers for much-needed wisdom.
My first observation was that "… in times past when the church was in trouble, God has always seen fit to reveal truth by more than one person. The Reformation was a good example. Many have the idea that all of the faithful slumbered until Martin Luther blew the trumpet and single-handedly woke everyone up. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There was Zwingli, John Huss, John Wiclif, LeFebre, Calvin, Melancthon, William Tyndale, Farrell, Bilney, John Foxe, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, to name just a few. In addition, there were many of God’s faithful in the Waldensians and the Anabaptists, both of which preceded the Reformation and ran parallel to it. Most of these people and events were occurring simultaneously, separated from each other, yet all having the same basic truth.
"The Bible itself has a number of examples of this. In Jeremiah’s time, he wasn’t the only one proclaiming truth. Ezekiel, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk prophesied in Judah at the same time, and there were others.
"Likewise, Elijah claimed that "I only am left", yet God had to remind him that there were 6,999 others, as we read in I Kings 19:18 and Romans 11:4.
"Likewise, God says, "I have sent my servants the prophets …" – note the plural – no less than 11 times, plus an additional number of related passages.
"Likewise, God tells us in Proverbs 24:6 that "… in multitude of counsellers there is safety." [One gentleman told me the next morning, trying to straighten me out on everything that I had said, that the "multitude of counsellers" in this verse refers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.]
"Likewise, the council at Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15 features God-given wisdom coming from a number of Godly men, not just one. And there are other Biblical examples.
"I get very concerned when anyone, including Family Radio, is the only voice proclaiming something new, especially if it is radically different. This is one of the things that troubled me about the 1994 teaching. If this new teaching about the latter rain is really so, then why is God only revealing it through Family Radio? Where has he ever said that truth in the latter times would be dispensed only by one voice? We also need to keep in mind that Family Radio is only one voice, for obvious reasons."
My second observation was to cite a statement that Mr. Camping has used very often, or at least used to use – "If you have truth, you can say it simply." The Bible itself make more than passing reference to this when it records for us in Mark 12:37,
<… And the common people heard him gladly.>
"The example par excellence is the pre-mil vs. a-mil issue, especially as it was debated about 20 years ago on Family Radio between Dr. John Walvoord, formerly president of Dallas Theological Seminary, and yourself. As you showed very clearly, the a-mil teaching is right on the surface of many, many passages of the Bible, and it is the pre-mil position that is convoluted and requires great leaps of faith and implicit trust in those who teach and write books. Unfortunately, we are now in the same position with this new teaching of the high places / latter rain / "the church is dead". It is complicated at best, and is also disturbingly similar to 1994 in that no one outside of yourself really understands it well enough to explain it to others. This is not how God reveals truth in his Word.
"There are issues that relate to this new teaching that none of us here will argue:
" * That the church will grow increasingly apostate near the end of time such that when Christ returns it will be exceedingly difficult to find a church that is faithful – this is clearly taught in Scripture.
" * That we must leave a church that has become a false gospel - this is clearly taught in Scripture.
" X However, to say that all visible, local churches will ‘lose their candlestick’, especially with the necessary consequence that we must then leave our churches – as a minimum, this is a conclusion derived from a complex study and is certainly not in the same category as the above two teachings.
"This is not to say that there are not complicated passages in the Bible, certainly. It is God’s book, not man’s. There are many intricate passages which, when unraveled, teach the same old truths and confirm or add a new dimension to what we already know. However, when we are confronted with a new teaching that is so very complicated to explain, we all need to be on our guard."
My third observation was based on Acts 20:27, which I read –
<For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.>
"It is imperative that Family Radio, one of the few remaining faithful Bible-based ministries, continues to do this. However, it is my observation that for about two years now, more and more of Family Radio’s presentation has been centered upon high places, and more recently, the latter rain. This is true of your Family Radio Bible Study program, especially with all of the detours that end up dwelling on this issue, and many of the School of the Bible broadcasts where you have taught this at various conferences, and many, many Open Forum questions which are either steered toward this issue or have it introduced.
"If this pattern of being centered around this single teaching continues, then Family Radio needs to seriously consider whether it is bringing the whole counsel of God.
"I would strongly urge that in your teaching, you go back to what you used to do so very, very well – a verse by verse exposition of a book of the Bible, dealing with whatever topic came up, like you did with Galatians, or Hosea, or I Corinthians, or the gospel of Mark, or Revelation, or Ruth. That is what we really, really need, and it will avoid the problem that I have described.
"Let’s assume that what you are teaching is correct – that we are in the period of the latter rain, as you have described it, and that the church is dead and has lost its candlestick. If that is so, and Family Radio is one of the few means by which people are being spiritually fed, then it is all the more urgent that Family Radio broadcast the whole counsel of God, not just keep on repeating one teaching with which everyone is already very familiar."
Mr. Camping began his answer by addressing the last issue first. "I believe that we are, and have been, teaching the whole counsel of God. We got into this when we were going through the book of Acts. When we got to Chapter 21, we realized that it had a lot to say about the Final Tribulation …"
"Concerning the Reformation – certainly this was one of the greatest events in the church’s history. Their problem is that, more and more, they made these man-made documents their guide instead of the Bible … high places … now, God is continuing to bring the gospel, but outside of the church during this period of the latter rain … Family Radio, by comparison, has no confession …
"Now concerning this matter of God bringing truth by more than one of his prophets – yes, it is true that God used other prophets at the time of Jeremiah, but there is no evidence from the Bible that Jeremiah and these other prophets met or spoke together …
"You know, we have to be very careful with this whole matter of consensus. Elijah was alone when he spoke, though there were indeed other true believers at the time …
"After all, if I taught this in any church, how long do you think that I would last? …
"We don’t really stand alone – we at Family Radio are together …"
Time ran out for that Open Forum.
I believe that all of the issues that I raised that evening stand on their own, in spite of Mr. Camping’s responses, so I will refrain from comment about all but one item. I carefully avoided the use of the word "consensus". That was neither expressed nor implied in my question. Mr. Camping introduced it with his answer. There is all the difference in the spiritual world between God revealing the same truth to more than one of his servants, and consensus.
I was quite unprepared for the number of other attendees that came up to me to discuss the latter rain issue, as a direct result of my speaking up at the Open Forums. Many of these people I had never met before. Two or three were supportive of Mr. Camping and parroted back what we have been hearing. The remainder, not a small number, was in agreement that this high places / latter rain / "church is dead" teaching is seriously flawed. Many were very concerned about the future of Family Radio if this goes on much longer. In response to every one that thanked me, I urged that we all continue in fervent prayer that God would guide us, and Family Radio, and Mr. Camping, into truth concerning this matter. Of note was one dear couple, not untypical, who had totally bought into the 1994 teaching, to the extent that they had sold most of their personal property, etc – I’m sure you know of many similar instances. These people were now torn between loyalty to the otherwise faithful ministry and not wanting to be involved with another gross error.
Two other questions were raised with Mr. Camping on the issue that deserve note. These were asked by others privately, not at one of the Open Forums. The first question cited I Corinthians 11:26 -
<For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.>
"Since the communion service is to be held in a church, under the supervision of its elders, doesn’t this verse tell us that the church will exist and be viable until the return of the Lord Jesus Christ?"
The second question was a very practical one. "Whether we are driven out of our churches, or we must leave if our church goes apostate, or we follow Mr. Camping’s conclusion and leave a presumably dead church, we will begin meeting together in homes in small groups. As we open the Scriptures and exhort and teach one another, we will realize that some among us may be particularly gifted as teachers and rulers; and we will want to eventually partake of communion; and someone will profess faith and want to be baptized, or a covenant family will be blessed with a child and desire baptism; and given time, there will likely arise problems by which we can no longer continue in communion with someone who persists unrepentant in a grievous and public sin. We then examine certain people’s qualifications against the Biblical criteria of I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and prayerfully choose elders and deacons. Don’t we now have a church?"
Unfortunately, Mr. Camping did not give these questions the consideration that they deserve. Perhaps they would have been better addressed if they had been asked at one of the Open Forums instead of privately, but they are certainly worth pursuing with him. (They were on my list of questions to ask him, but I only had time to ask the questions that I did.)
I did mention to several people that when I was at the conferences in A.D. 1993 and 1994, I became similarly burdened with questions and issues to raise, but I held my peace, fearing that I would be lynched if I spoke up at the Open Forums like I did this year. They responded, "You’re right. Feelings were running that high then, especially in 1994."
It did come close to that at the 1994 conference. On the last day, I bade farewell to one who very energetically embraced the whole affair, then added, "See you next year." (This was not meant as a taunt – rather, it has come to be our standard farewell at these conferences.)
His mouth was opened for several seconds before he was able to respond, "In less than two months, the Lord will be coming back. There won’t be a next year."
"No, the Lord isn’t coming back on September 6, and unless he takes me home first, I’ll be here next year."
I was. He wasn’t.
Returning to A.D. 2001, I have been quite sure for some time now that Mr. Camping has set another date. If so, however, it is extremely unlikely that he would ever announce it. This latter rain teaching is open-ended, and there is no objective way to falsify it. He can’t be proved wrong like he was on September 7, A.D. 1994.
Prior to the conference, I had concluded that this high places / latter rain / "the church is dead" teaching was nothing more than Son of 1994. He did make one comment during the conference that validated this. "You know, I have struggled since 1994 trying to figure where I went wrong, what I had overlooked. It finally hit me – I had not considered the latter rain. Now it all ties together."
The discussions that I related above and other visits that I had with Mr. Camping this year were at times stressful and uncomfortable, but they were by no means contentious or testy. However, I sure do miss the good old days, prior to September 1992, when we were of one heart, like David and Jonathan.
What will happen in the next few years? I don’t know. As a result of this new teaching, more and more people are getting turned off about Family Radio and are simply turning off Family Radio. The main difference between this and 1994 is that now, those people are a lot quieter. They simply drop out. This may be God’s way to take Family Radio out, if that’s his plan. I am ready for that, sad though it would be.
During and following the aftermath of 1994, Mr. Camping has repeatedly compared himself to Moses, whom he claims made timing errors because God "had not at that point given him complete information." That comparison is flawed, in my judgment, for a number of reasons. There is a Biblical character, though, with whom Mr. Camping can be very soberly and directly compared. That is Josiah, the last good king of Judah, of whom we read in II Kings 23:25,
<And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.>
Just as Josiah went from this high point to get himself into a stupid war with Egypt that was none of his business, wherein even the pagan Egyptian king Pharaoh-necho warned him of God’s disapprobation (II Chronicles 35:20-24), so Mr. Camping is moving Family Radio, again, in a direction that cannot be healthy. If that direction were firmly and clearly founded on God’s Word, that would be fine, and let God take care of the consequences. That was not the case in 1994, but Family Radio, mercifully, emerged relatively unscathed. Whether it will now survive the latter rain / "the church is dead" crisis is in God’s hands.
Given the direction that this teaching is heading, and based on a number of things that we heard him say at Mission Springs, I believe that we can expect that at the Tuscarora conference this summer, August A.D. 2001, Mr. Camping will announce that since "the church is dead", we must now leave our congregations – that is, unless God intervenes, as he mercifully has many times throughout redemptive history, and changes his mind.
I would suggest continuing to take up Mr. Camping on his offer to challenge him on this vital issue, with questions based upon God’s Word, whether at conferences, Day in the Word seminars, the live Open Forum, or wherever. He may not give good answers, or you may be cut off, or you may feel like you were put down. No matter. The airing of objections to this topic will be instructive to others and encouraging to many who are struggling with it, as I found again and again this year at Mission Springs.
Most importantly, please be in earnest prayer for Mr. Camping and Family Radio.
With you in God’s undeserved love and mercy,
August 6, A.D. 2001