Harold Camping & Family Radio The Great Tribulation & the Church Age

 According to Harold Camping, the founder and director of Family Radio, we are in the Great Tribulation and we are no longer to function as churches. Harold Camping and Family Radio is teaching that people should leave their churches. This is not the message of the Bible for today. My refutation will deal mainly with the article “Has the Era of the Church Age Come to an End? Part II” by Harold Camping from Family Radio News vol. 37 #1 (January, February, March 2002) and also from a booklet of the same name published by Family Stations, Inc. His article is somewhat a condensation of the booklet although some paragraphs are repeated verbatim.

 In the article’s first paragraph Mr. Camping states “that there is sufficient evidence that we are in the final period of the earth’s history called the ‘great tribulation.’” In page 15 of the booklet he states that the first evidence of our being in the great tribulation is the great interest in “signs and wonders, miracles.” He says that “never in all of church history” has there been such widespread interest in these things. The interest was seen in the first century church as exhibited with Simon the magician in Acts 8. Throughout church history there has been an inordinate interest in signs, wonders, and/or miracles. I see no evidential basis to say that today is different. Mr. Camping uses Matthew 24:24 as the prediction of Christ that Mr. Camping states is being fulfilled in our day. The verse does not speak of a worldwide interest but that “false Christs, and false prophets …shall show great signs and wonders.” While the devil is definitely the deceiver, the “signs and wonders” themselves will be real, just as Jannes and Jambres turned their staffs into snakes and turned the Nile River into blood (Exodus 7:11,22). Revelation 13:14 says that he deceives “because of the signs which it was given him to perform.” Mr. Camping speaks of interest in the concept of signs and wonders, but gives no evidence that the devil is actually performing real signs today. “

A second evidence [of the great tribulation] is the world wide evidence of people falling backward.” The practice is called “being slain in the Spirit.” Mr. Camping calls this “fire come down from heaven” and teaches that it fulfills the predictions of Revelation 13:13. Again the verse states that the beast will perform “great signs” and make “fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.” Mr. Camping says that “Satan, of course, cannot literally call down fire from heaven.” He states that only God can do this and gives the incident of Elijah on Mt. Carmel as evidence. Although God hindered Satan from calling down fire from heaven on that occasion, He did allow Satan to rain real fire from heaven that was literal and burned and consumed Job’s sheep and servants (Job 1:16, 12). Revelation 13 indicates that God will again allow Satan to accomplish this wonder in the days ahead. Unable to show how this prophecy has literally been fulfilled, Mr. Camping says that the falling backwards is a “startling evidence” of the fulfillment of this prophecy. Mr. Camping says that when enemies came to arrest Jesus in the garden “to show that He had the power to call down fire from heaven and destroy them, when He answered them Jesus caused all of these wicked men to fall backward to the ground.” He then says that it is a “fact that causing people to fall backward to the ground is equivalent to calling down fire from heaven.” It is not a fact. Although Jesus showed power, He did not rain fire from heaven. He could have but He didn’t. Neither is there is any equivalency to what Jesus did then and what goes on in some churches when people fall backward. At the coming right time Satan will deceive people by doing literal wonders, including raining literal fire. There is no evidence today that God is allowing this.

A third evidence (page 16) seems somewhat complicated but I think that Mr. Camping is saying that a great multitude will get saved during the tribulation (Revelation 7:9). He believes that God is doing this as a result of his radio ministry and concludes that this is a “startling evidence that shows us that we are in the second part of the great tribulation.” I believe that many are getting saved today, but I don’t have any evidence that what is happening today is as significant as past revivals in history. Surely many were saved in the first century, but it was not the end time tribulation period. Many were saved during the reformation, but that was not the end time tribulation period. The “Great Awakening” was a marvelous outpouring of God’s saving power, but it also was not the end time tribulation period. There is no evidence today that conversions are more significant than at other times in history. There is no evidence that people getting saved today is not the work of God through the church. Mr. Camping does not give any such evidence. Instead he implies that since “Family Radio … in no sense is under the authority of the church” is being used of God, the church must be gone and we are in the tribulation. This strikes at the heart of the problem. Mr. Camping is not under any earthly authority. He is not subject to any other recognized godly men. I know of no other significant godly leader who is teaching that we are in the tribulation and that the church age has ended.

Mr. Camping has not made a valid Biblical case that we are in the tribulation. He has merely made a pronouncement that we are. Mr. Camping does not stand with the Bible on this issue nor does he stand with godly leaders.

Mr. Camping is also stating that the church age has ended. He states that Jeremiah 29 teaches that “God’s judgment is upon all those who refused to go as captives into Babylon.” “It was God’s plan that no one was to remain in Jerusalem.” He then goes to Luke 21 and cites that the people were to flee when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies. Without Biblical support, he says that “Jerusalem or Judea represent all of the New Testament churches and denominations.” He also says that the armies surrounding are “Satan’s massive attack on churches all over the world.” There is no reason for not reading Luke 21 in a literal sense. There is no justification for concluding that “Jerusalem” in this context is the church. Although there was a church “in” and “at” Jerusalem, the two words are never equated in Scripture. Possibly Mr. Camping was alluding to Revelation 21:2 and the equating of the “new Jerusalem” as the “bride.” However, I doubt that Mr. Camping would think that an army would surround the “new Jerusalem” and destroy it. Satan is attacking the church today (including this attack by Mr. Camping), but Satan has been doing so since the Lord began His church. The question is whether Satan has successfully destroyed it. Mr. Camping then states that “God speaks of the work of the church being finished” in Revelation 11:8, but the verse does not speak of the churches being finished as he says, nor of Jerusalem, but of the two witness. It is true that they are in Jerusalem, but it is clearly the physical city, for the verse states “where also their Lord was crucified.”

 Mr. Camping speaks of Lot fleeing the judgment of Sodom and says, “The message should be clear. We must remove ourselves from the church.” Luke 17 is speaking of a judgment on the world, not on the church. The judgment was on Sodom, not Lot. The judgment was on the world, not on Noah (Luke 17:27). When Mr. Camping refers again to Lot, he mentions fleeing the housetop and the house. Just because another passage states that we are to shout the truth from the housetops, he equates the two. He says, “The house identifies with the church.” There is no evidence for equating these two.

Mr. Camping says that “the church era has come to an end” and “The churches of today have had their candlestick removed.” Again these are pronouncements not Biblical teaching. Though God can and has taken away the candlestick from certain churches, one does not have warrant to conclude that God has taken all the churches away. Mr. Camping makes this unwarranted conclusion.

Although Mr. Camping has clearly pronounced the church as dead, he seems to hedge when he says “that it is almost impossible to find a church today” that is faithful to the Bible. Indeed there are more churches that are not faithful than there are churches trying to be faithful, but there are some. None of these churches that are trying to be faithful are perfect, nor were any other churches ever perfect. The churches to which we find the New Testament epistles were almost all flawed, yet God used them as churches. If God does take away the candlestick, it is He that is to do it, not Mr. Camping. If we see a church teaching that Jesus is not Lord and Savior, and that heaven is secured by man’s work, then we have warrant to conclude that if there was light emanating from that church, that God has taken away that light. Because Mr. Camping pronounces that the church era has ended, he therefore, states that God has taken away all of the candlesticks, even those that might have been faithful. Mr. Camping has no right to say such. There are many churches today that still “appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Unless the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus, says it, we have no place to make such a broad conclusion. Obviously down through history, the Lord has taken away a church, but He did not take away all of the churches. Although good churches are the minority among all churches, in numbers there are more faithful churches worldwide today than the few churches we read about in the New Testament time.

In Luke 21 Jesus said that all the stones of the temple would be thrown down. Mr. Camping says “The temple buildings represent the churches and congregations.” Without warrant he says that not one stone remaining means that not one church will remain. Again it is a pronouncement, not a Biblical conclusion. The individual believer is referred to as both a temple (1Cor. 3:16 & 6:19), and a stone of the building (1Peter 2:5). There is no warrant for making Luke 21 refer to the church and no warrant for the conclusion that all the churches, good and bad, are to be totally destroyed. Luke 21 is talking about the literal stones of the literal temple (Luke 21:5,6).

Finally, Mr. Camping having pronounced the church obsolete, dead, and destroyed tells believers what to do in this “post-church” age. He tells believers to leave their churches but to continue to assemble together with the others who have left their churches. He says they must do this because Hebrews 10:25 says that we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as believers. The new group is to exist without elders, deacons, or Pastors yet “reorganize” with other believers (Booklet, page 20). Mr. Camping fails to realize that once they “reorganize” and fellowship and assemble together they actually become a church. They become a poor example of a church. They decide their own form of organizing rather than allowing the Head of the Church determine such through His Word. Nevertheless, they are a church. The Greek word for “church” is ekkleisia. Literally the word means a “called-out” group assembling together. Whether they call it a local church or not, they will have started a new church. When they leave the existing church, they “forsake” assembling with the believers of that church.

 What Mr. Camping is suggesting is not new. Disgruntled people have left churches for years and started new churches. Sometimes the result was better and sometimes it was worse. What will happen to people who heed Mr. Camping’s pronouncements? If they are in a church of nonbelievers, they will be following the Biblical admonition to “come out from among them and be separate” (2Corinthians 6:14-18). They should then follow the Bible for what they should do. If, however, they are not to seek to use ones qualified to be servants (deacons), or seek the leadership of the spiritually mature (elders), and do not have God’s shepherds (pastors) to guide and watch over their souls (Hebrews 13:17), what will they do? Mr. Camping himself could become their radio shepherd and direct them, but he will not be able to direct them in the way the head of the church, the Lord Jesus, would direct them. The Lord Jesus gave the New Testament, especially the epistles to direct His churches.

But what happens if the church is a church of believers and they leave it? Then they will be forsaking the assembling of themselves together with those believers in violation of Hebrews 10:25. Then they will at best not obey and yield to the very ones that God has set over them to keep watch over their souls (Hebrews 13:17). They will disobey God and harm the church that God has placed them in, hurt other believers, and put themselves in great danger. They will be in danger of sinning against the Head of the Church.

Years ago I was told that if I ever found a perfect church that I should not become a part of it. Since I was imperfect, I would wreck the church. All churches are imperfect just as all believers are imperfect. But God has chosen such to be His testimony. Each believer must decide when he is to obey God rather than man, but if he does not obey those over him in the Lord, he will not be obeying God. Each church should always be striving to be all that God wants it to be, but it should seek to apply God’s Word correctly (2Timothy 2:15).

 The Christian always needs to have a degree of deference when dealing with others. No group will continue without it. When they is no deference there is inevitably division. We must repeat that we must leave any fellowship that does not seek to follow God’s Word (2Cor. 6:14-18). But we must also be careful of defacing something that God is in the process of building. God desires that there “be no division in the body” (1Cor. 12:25). We are to strive or be diligent “to preserve the unity of the body” (Ephesians 4:3). Those who promote factions are promoting the “deeds of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19, 20). We are to keep our eye on such ones (Romans 16:17).

 Family Radio has provided great ministry in the past. Its programming is some of the best. Its leader and spokesman is a man. He is a man who was mistaken about the return of the Lord, and he is a man who is mistaken about God’s continued use of the church. He is a man who consistently holds views that are opposed by godly men of today. He says that something is a symbol of something else and then builds doctrines around those symbols and makes dangerous applications for others. He seems to be tossing away the scripture that does not agree with him, in favor of his views. If there is to be a separation it would seem that there should be a separation from a man who would tell us that much of the Bible would no longer apply to us and that he is the one to guide us in God’s way. Mr. Camping has taught many good things from the Bible. His teaching that the church age has come to an end is neither “good” nor Biblical.

Dr. John Michael Thomas wrote this paper on 1-12-02. He is the pastor of

The Bible Church 35 Campus Drive Port Washington, NY 11050 We believe that man is a sinner and separated from a holy God, but that God loved us and sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, to pay for the penalty of our sins when He died on the cross. We believe that He rose from the dead and is alive today and offering salvation to those who will turn from their sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Lord and Savior. Like many others, The Bible Church is an imperfect church trying to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as our Head. If we may help you in any way, please come to visit us or call us at (516) 944-8150.

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