Do Contemporary Problems Mean ‘The End of the Church’?

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part 6 of a series. Read part 5.

In our current series we’re addressing these questions: “My church is no longer true to the Word of God on essential Christian truths. What should I do? Should I leave? Should I stay and try to fight error? Will I be guilty of schism if I do either one?”

Thus far, we’ve presented the only response that Scripture clearly mandates. Today we begin addressing some of the un-Biblical responses that are common today. We find that Scripture is just as clear in telling us that other “solutions” are unacceptable to God. We begin with the non-solution promoted by cult leader Harold Camping, who says that today’s problems signify “the end of the church.”1

A False Prophet

Harold Camping, owner and president of Family Radio, uses that worldwide network as a bully pulpit to teach that the church age has ended, we are now in the Great Tribulation, and the church of Jesus Christ in terms of local organized congregations no longer exists. The organized church, he says, has become the synagogue of Satan, who is now on its throne. God is no longer saving people through the ministry of organized churches. Therefore, says Camping, Christians must leave organized churches and meet in “fellowships” in which there are no pastors, deacons, or elders, and there is no practice of baptism or observance of the Lord’s Supper. And, true believers are to no longer financially support organized churches but are to support Family Radio.2

Harold Camping has shown himself to be a false prophet before, having predicted in the early 1990s that Christ would return in September 1994.3 More recently, Camping has announced a new date, 2011, on his daily radio program. In his latest publications, We are Almost There! and To God be the Glory, he states that the Bible teaches unquestionably that May 21, 2011 is the date of the rapture, and October 21, 2011 is the date of the end of the world. On his radio broadcasts and in public lectures to his followers, he says that these dates, and the growing body of details with which he embellishes this prophecy, are new revelations from God directly to him.

Bible-believing Christians are commanded not to listen to a man like Harold Camping. Scripture instructs us that “when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” [Deuteronomy 18:22].

It also warns us: “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” [Revelation 22:18-19].

Absurd Teachings — A Loyal and Cultish Following

Camping’s teachings on the church could simply be dismissed as absurd if they had not gained a loyal and cultish following. His doctrines are absurd; he bases them on highly symbolic, allegorical, and inconsistent interpretations of isolated Scripture passages, and his interpretations have no foundation in grammatical-historical principles. Space does not permit a full discussion here, but the church needs to be warned that Harold Camping teaches deep error not only regarding the church but on many other things, including salvation itself.4 Camping denies that faith is the instrument of salvation; he claims that if God used faith as an instrument this would somehow add a work to salvation.5 Yet at the same time Camping often says on his Open Forum radio program that people must “beg and plead” with God to save them.

The Trap of Family Radio

Many people who disagree with Camping listen to Family Radio for the good Christian music, extensive Bible reading, and other things that would in themselves be worthy — except for one thing. Along the way, around the clock, listeners are indoctrinated by Camping and his approved teachers who repeat and reinforce his false doctrines. Christians shouldn’t listen to Family Radio any more than they should listen to a station promulgating the false teachings of the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Islam.

Christians must beware of Harold Camping on the most basic matters of doctrine, much less consider Camping’s teachings on the church to be a solution to the present crisis. He has proven himself a false teacher who is to be noted and avoided: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).

Christians do not need to flee from the organized church; they need to flee from Harold Camping.

Scripture Clearly Opposes Camping

Scripture is clearly opposed to Camping’s basic propositions. Space permits us to address but three. First, Christ has not, as Camping alleges, forsaken His church, nor is Satan on its throne:

I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it [Matthew 16:18].

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in Heaven and Earth is named…. To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever [Ephesians 3:14, 21].

Second, Christ has not, as Camping teaches, suspended the sacraments:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes [1 Corinthians 11:26].

All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on Earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age [Matthew 28:18-19].

Third, Camping-style isolation is simply not an option for believers:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching [Hebrews 10:23-25].

Contemporary Problems Don’t Mean “The End of the Church”

Camping cites many problems in the contemporary church as supposed proof of his “end of the church” doctrine. But there have been such problems in the church from the beginning: legalism (Acts 15; Galatians); compromise and corruption (Revelation 2); problems in worship (1 Corinthians 11); lukewarmness (Revelation 3); injustice (Acts 6); immorality (1 Corinthians 5); ungodly contentions (James 4). Such problems certainly abounded in the sixteenth century, but the Reformers knew better than to declare that the end of the church age had come. On the contrary, they championed separation from apostasy and realignment of the organized true church on sound principles.

Because the church is in the world, the world is in the church, and believers are not perfected in this life, the church can never exist in the absence of many such problems until Jesus returns. To say that the church has come to an end because these things exist in it today is to deny the Biblical doctrine of the church and the lordship of Christ over His church. On the contrary, one of the marks of a true church of Jesus Christ is that it deals with such matters by exercising godly discipline according to Scripture.

Next: The Trap of “I’ll Wait And See What Happens”

References:

1. Material in this article is adapted from Christianity and Neo-Liberalism by Paul M. Elliott (The Trinity Foundation, 2005), pages 347-351.

2. These teachings are found, among other places, in Camping’s booklets, Has the Church Age Come to an End? (Oakland, California: Family Stations, Inc., 2000) and The End of the Church Age…and After (2004).

3. Harold Camping, 1994? (Ashland, Ohio: Vantage Press, 1992).

4. For a detailed critique of Camping’s heresy, see James R. White, Dangerous Airwaves: Harold Camping Refuted and Christ’s Church Defended (Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 2002).
page 10.

5. White, 142.

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