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My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity
Osvaldo Colon walks the streets of New York proselytizing with other believers that the world will end Saturday.
May 17th, 2011
03:27 PM ET

My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity

Editor’s Note: Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and the author of 17 books, including the forthcoming "Forget Saving America!"

By Robert Jeffress, Special to CNN

In January 1961, a few days before John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president, he invited Billy Graham to spend a day with him in Key Biscayne, Florida. After a round of golf, Kennedy and Graham were returning to their hotel when Kennedy stopped the white Lincoln convertible he was driving by the side of the road.

“Billy, do you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth one day?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes, Mr. President, I certainly do,” the evangelist responded.

“Then why do I hear so little about it?” Kennedy wondered.

Were Kennedy alive today, he probably wouldn't be asking the same question.

During Kennedy’s lifetime, few mainline Protestant churches discussed the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Fifty years later, however, televangelists, network television programs, movies and books like the "Left Behind" series — which has sold more than 60 million copies — have succeeded in placing the return of Jesus Christ in the public consciousness.

A 2004 Newsweek poll revealed that 55 percent of Americans believe in the Rapture, the snatching away of all Christians prior to the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ.

As a pastor who preaches often about Bible prophecy, I am grateful for the general awareness people have of the promised return of Jesus Christ.

But our culture’s newfound interest in the end times has a downside. Bible prophecy inherently attracts fanatics. As a seminary professor of mine used to say to our class, “Remember, wherever there is light, there are bugs!”

One of those fanatics is Harold Camping, the founder of the Christian broadcasting ministry Family Radio in Oakland, California. Camping has predicted that the Rapture will occur at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, followed by the end of the world five months later on October 21, 2011.

Family Radio has plastered billboards across the nation with the warning “Judgment Day, May 21, The Bible Guarantees It!”

Road trip to the end of the world

Readers should note that Camping first predicted the world’s end in 1994. He says he was wrong due to a mathematical miscalculation.

Now I am going to make my own prediction which I’m (almost) willing to stake my life on: May 21 will come and go without any Rapture.

How can I be so certain of my prophecy? The Bible itself says that no one can know the date of the end of the world.

Predicting the apocalypse

In discussing His return to Earth, Jesus told His disciples, “... of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36).

If God has not even revealed to his own son the date the world will end, I doubt he has revealed it to Harold Camping.

My hunch is that the date God ultimately has chosen is one that will not be plastered on billboards around the country.

What harm is there in an 89-year-old preacher making prognostications about the end of the world?

First, such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible.

For example, many secularists have dismissed the Bible because they assume that it teaches the world is only 6,000 years old. In reality, the Bible never makes such a claim about the Earth’s age. Instead, some well-intentioned Christians have misused the genealogies in the Bible to attempt to ascertain the date of creation.

Similarly, when next Saturday passes without a Rapture, some will say, “See, the Bible was wrong again,” when, in fact, it will have been Harold Camping who was wrong — again.

Second, predictions about the end of the world always lead some people to make foolish decisions. When a self-professed prophet named Edgar Whisenant predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1988, a couple I know responded by charging their Visa card to the limit with a trip to Disney World, believing the bank would be left with the bill once they had left the Magic Kingdom for God’s kingdom.

Obviously, things did not go as planned.

A look at the ways the world could end

Just as every teacher knows how unproductive and unfocused students are the week before school lets out, God knows how tempted we would be to neglect the responsibilities he has entrusted to us if we knew the date we would be raptured into heaven. That is why God refuses to show us his calendar and instead instructs us to focus on our assignment.

But the most harmful consequence of Camping’s false prediction is that it discourages people from making the necessary preparation for the real event when it actually occurs.

Remember the boy who cried wolf once too often? The villagers were so hardened to the boy’s false alarms that they were unprepared when the wolf finally arrived.

When May 21 passes and Camping’s prophecy is added to the ash heap of discredited prophecies, some will be tempted to join the chorus of cynics whom the Bible predicts will mockingly say, “Where is the promise of Christ’s coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Make no mistake about it. As Billy Graham affirmed to President Kennedy, Jesus is coming back some day. Over 1,800 verses in the Old Testament and 300 verses in the New Testament prophesy of the lord’s return.

Don’t allow the Harold Campings of the world keep you from making the necessary preparation for the end — whenever it may be.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • End times • Heaven • Opinion

soundoff (1,945 Responses)
  1. JOregon

    @Robert Jeffress
    I have issues with Camping but I also have issues with false accusations.
    QUOTE: “Readers should note that Camping first predicted the world’s end in 1994. He says he was wrong due to a mathematical miscalculation.”
    Not true.
    When he wrote 1994 he said that, according to the Bible, Christ should return in 2011. The reason he shortened the time to 1994 was because he thought he saw some things that indicated that the time period would be shortened. I believe one of the verses he wondered about was:
    Mark 13:20 And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.
    .
    It wasn't math, he says it was because he wondered about some verses. This is why I have an issue with Camping. He has changed one of his fundamental principles. In the past he has always said we see through a glass darkly.
    1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
    .
    Now he says he can't be wrong.
    QUOTE: “How can I be so certain of my prophecy? The Bible itself says that no one can know the date of the end of the world.”
    and
    QUOTE: “If God has not even revealed to his own son the date the world will end, I doubt he has revealed it to Harold Camping.”
    Since Mr. Camping has hosted a call in Q&A program about the bible 5 days a week for the past 50+/- years I think it is safe to say he feels he has a solid answer to those verses. Especially since his calls were not screened and he answered those questions with only the bible that he held.
    I think you knew that. You just wanted to make a false accusation. A lie. While it can be accepted from the general population, you are passing yourself off as a voice of reason – no need to lie.
    Mark 13:32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
    .
    Is it your contention that Jesus was not fully God, or is it the Father that was not fully God? John 14:9
    If I understand Camping's argument during the building of the church and the spreading of the gospel man was not to waste time on this question. The Son did not know – meaning the Church was all about raising up the Son.
    Now that we are at the end of time it is the Father that reveals this information.
    The question is are we at the end of time? I don't know if May 21 is it, but I believe we are.
    This world is dying.
    Bats are dying off at an alarming rate from a fungus that so far is incurable.
    Frogs are dying off.
    Hope everyone likes mosquitoes.
    Wild honey bees – bye bye. Dead spots in the ocean, where there is no oxygen. Etc.
    The bible warns about certain signs for the end times, you might say it tries to tell us we will know the time of the end.
    The Fig tree came into leaf May 14, 1948.
    The signs and wonders movement took off in the 20th century.
    1 Timothy 4:1 ¶ Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
    .
    Many churches have left their foundation, people want to hear a different kind of message were they are in control. No longer is the message to throw yourself on the mercy of God. Now the message is, if you do X,Y, and/or Z you will be saved.
    Since I spent many years in a Southern Baptist Church I will use the SBC Faith and Message as a good example.
    If you compare the Southern Baptist “Abstract of Principles” with todays “Faith and Message” you will see a church that fell off its foundation.
    Any student should know that James Petrigu Boyce had a much different set of beliefs than what the Southern Baptists teach today. At the very least Southern Baptist Seminary should change the name of Boyce College.
    The point is, many churches have gone the way of the Southern Baptists. They have abandoned their principles and adopted new and exciting ones. Itching ears.
    Just as the bible predicted for the end times.
    QUOTE: “First, such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible.”
    Or perhaps it will cause some to think about it. Perhaps some will go to their knees.
    It certainly is a better message than the many hypocritical messages that have come out of churches today.
    QUOTE: “Second, predictions about the end of the world always lead some people to make foolish decisions.”
    True.
    QUOTE: “But the most harmful consequence of Camping’s false prediction is that it discourages people from making the necessary preparation for the real event when it actually occurs.”
    I think most reasonable people will know there is a wide diversity of Christian thought.

    May 18, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Very thoughtful. Since no man knows the day or hour, I'm thinking maybe it is May 22. Now that I put my bid in, it won't be May 22 either.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  2. Artist

    theoldadam

    Why do people listen to these nuts?!

    Especially the ones (like Camping) who have pulled this before!

    Amazing.

    -----
    They believe in beings with magical powers...is it so hard to see them believing this man. The core of christians is their faith in man and always has been. The blind and clueless.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  3. Phillibuster

    I'm waiting until Monday to get a sweet neon "May 21 – Judgment Day" T-shirt at 50% off.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  4. theoldadam

    Why do people listen to these nuts?!

    Especially the ones (like Camping) who have pulled this before!

    Amazing.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  5. FDK

    So is judgement day on Saturday or not?

    May 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  6. Maria

    The people that believe this are such sad sheep. Complete fools.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  7. Prometheus

    From my perspective it was fascinating to read this post written by Mr. Robert Jeffress. It was also ironic. 1st... the comparison of 2 non-empirical beliefs and having one disparage, judge, and pity the other view is like the people who believe in extraterrestrials writing the same sort of article about people who believe in fairies...and vice versa.

    I think it was you Mr. Jeffress, who harmed Christianity by writing this article. To me it is a lightning rod that simply draws attention to two "fanatical" (using your words) views by similar groups of people. It reminds me of a fool who is drowning...and a different fool walking by swims out to 'save' him...resulting in two drowning deaths.

    What was '"gained" by your writing this article...really?

    May 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  8. seth avery

    Matt 24 Many shall come in my name saying"I am christ(an annointed one) and shall deceive many. There are many who say they have or are annointed and they are deceiving many. To me it is just another sign of the times and we are getting closer to the end but we are not there yet. Stay ready.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  9. Dee

    We all need something to believe in – it gives us hope

    May 18, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  10. Dee

    Yeah, where is that pope huh?

    May 18, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  11. Recee

    "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Mt. 24:36
    Should you be ready??? yes, should you be listening to some tell they know something they can not know?, No... This is the second time this person has tried to predict the coming of Christ... Christian need to pray for this man and his church followers cause they need to know what the word says for themselves, not because this guy says he knows... and he calculated. All he's doing is making people mock Christianity, and that's not cool.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  12. Tim

    I respect everything Harold Camping says, but dont understand why he would put himself on the spot like this to specify a date, and Time..Especially since he knows the Bible more than most. As a Christian I dont believe anyone can know the date, as the Bible says not even The Angels, or Christ will know- only the Father. All we can do is do what we can to be ready and be forgiven/saved/

    May 18, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • JOregon

      His explanation for those verses run sort of like this:
      At the beginning the believers weren't to waste their time and energy thinking about his return. They were to proclaim the gospel and build churches. To spread the word about the Son. That is why it says even the Son doesn't know the time of the end. Because the focus was on the Son.
      Isn't it odd that Christ who was fully God didn't know the time?
      The bible does tell us to watch for certain signs. When the signs begin to appear, such as the Fig tree coming into leaf May 14, 1948, then God the Father would reveal the time.
      It is the Father that gives us understanding.
      Matthew 16:17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Mike

      The guy's 89 years old. And a Christian. He's probably having a hard time keeping reality and fantasy separate.

      May 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  13. LAX BRO

    ok this is bull i am a firm believer in christianity im 16 and like stated earlier when the time comes noone will know so this guy needs to stop prettending to be god and get on with his life only god hiself will know ok thank... lol another point is if you read the article it suggests dead will walk the earth i couldnt help but relate that to ZOMBIES? wow this guys a nut

    May 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • JOregon

      @LAX
      He has dealt with that verse.
      The writer of the article certainly knows that, he just isn't being honest.
      There are a few things that bother me about Camping but he has given a very good explanation for the passages you mention.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  14. Mike

    I think Mr. Lee Oats perfectly said it. But we will ALL be here on sunday......

    May 18, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  15. The Sonman

    Religion teaches that there are good people and bad people.
    The Gospel teaches all are bad then you have Jesus. and the only differance between the bad is that some know it and other don't.
    Religion teaches that you need to work at being good for Gods love.
    The Gospel teaches God is love and that we cannot do any good and it is only by His mercy we are saved. And that mercy was shown through His son Jesus. Whether He comes today or a thousand years from now we will all stand before God and give account.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  16. Skape7

    Actually, Jesus gave a pretty clear timeline for his return:

    "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
    (Matthew 16:28)

    Considering he was speaking to mere mortals, he should have returned within their lifetime, some 1900 years ago... Unless, of course, there are some 2000+ year old men walking around still.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Bruce

      Actually... since God is the creator of everything, it's really nothing for their to be a 2000 year old man. A casual read of the bible doesn't always make sense. It does not mean that any part of it is wrong.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • JOregon

      @Skape7
      You just needed to read the next chapter.
      Matthew 17:2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Mike

      lol Bruce. So, even though you don't understand it, you still follow it? Seems kind of silly.

      May 18, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  17. DrWhizgig

    CNN comments are hilarious!

    May 18, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  18. Carl Grant

    Here is the TRUE TEST : If THEY are so SURE about the world ending on MAY 21 2011, THEY should have NO PROBLEM with signing ALL THEIR EARTHLY GOODS over to me starting the NIGHT of MAY 20, 2011. i,e. BANK ACCOUNT, HOUSE, WIFE etc. Give it all to me! CONTACT MY EMAIL ADDRESS for Signing over Details.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Recee

      Im with you Grant, I have school loans that can be paid off, credit cards, I like to pay... wouldn't mind have my own home... It wrong, and when we get to May 22nd, and there is no evidence that Jesus return, and Bible says, everyone will see it... ACTS 1:11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

      May 18, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Turtlehead

      No, me, I want their stuff.

      May 18, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  19. Lee Oates

    You don't need religion to realize that we are committing species suicide by our pollution and destruction of the planet. I think that most people in the back of their minds know with some cetainty that things are going to get very bad in the near future. Any intelligent person can understand that:

    (1) The worlds population continues to rise and our resources are declining. Oil has peaked.
    (2) We have built an entire civilization on a non-renewable resource (oil), and failed to seriously consider building alternate, non-polluting energy sources.
    (3) We are polluting the planet's air, water, oceans, forests, and land to the point of ecolgical collapse.
    (4) Our governments are corrupt, controlled by corporate interests, and block serious change.
    (5) Our food sources are declining, creating hunger and civil unrest.
    (6) Human behaviour itself is working against our survival, i.e., deny problems, prograstinate and hope it will go away, and leave it up to a fairy-tale figure to resolve it all in some supernatural way. Above all, a high level of ignorance prevails.
    (7) We are slowly building up to a 3rd world war involving nuclear weapons, which could hasten our destruction.

    Is it any wonder that the human species is slowly going insane as it faces the consequences of their behavior. Its all just a matter of time. I'll give us anywhere between 10 to 50 years. You can expect many more doomsday predictions in the near future as people are forced by circustances to acknowledge a dawing reality. In typical fashion, we will do our best to kill the messanger of bad news.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Bruce

      Being a good steward and responsible is a core part of what you call 'religion'.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Turtlehead

      But, but...it will cut into corporate profits if we act like responsible humans...and who wants that? (Snark)

      May 18, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  20. Jeremy

    For those of you who don't believe in God, let alone Christianity, how can you say that religion is bad?

    May 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • gupsphoo

      I don't believe it because it's bad.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Lauren

      I completely agree with you. My boyfriend's name is jeremy,he is, and i am a big believer in god, so i had to comment^-^

      May 18, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Turtlehead

      The religion of Jesus isn't bad, it's his followers that are...they are so unlike who they worship.

      May 18, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Mike

      At its core, religion teaches individuals to accept something without any evidence, facts, or logical thinking applied. Democracy requires enlightened, educated people. The two don't mix well.

      May 18, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.