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Why I’m Not Planning any Rapture Pranks

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I’m pretty sure everyone’s heard by now that the Rapture is happening tomorrow.

Or, you know, maybe not.

There’s a lot of derision and merriment floating around directed at Harold Camping and his followers — and given the extreme likelihood that we’ll all still be here Sunday morning (except for anyone unlucky enough to hit a moose while driving out of St. John’s for the long weekend) that’s understandable. I’ve been very interested, though, to see the responses of my fellow Seventh-day Adventists. Given that our church had its roots over 160 years ago in just such a failed attempt to predict the Lord’s return, you’d think we’d have, at the least, a little compassion for Camping and those who believe him.

In fact, in many ways Camping’s movement seems to be a twenty-first century version of the Millerite movement. It’s not affiliated with any official denomination (and in fact condemned by most if not all); it’s led by a man who is not a trained minister or Bible scholar but has devoted many years to developing his own arcane system of understanding Bible prophecy; and it’s spreading rapidly by word of mouth even while being mocked and derided by most of society. And, of course, it’s heading straight for a Great Disappointment.

One key difference is doctrinal: while Miller preached a visible return of Jesus, the end of the earth and Judgement Day in 1844, Camping preaches a secret rapture of the saved in 2011 (to be followed by the judgement of the wicked and the end of days in October of this year, apparently). But both men, when confronted with the uncomfortable fact that Jesus told us no-one would know the day nor the hour of his return, managed to talk their way around that text.

Given these uneasy parallels, it’s interesting to look at Adventist response to the May 21 rapture theory. While other Christians are practically stumbling over each other in their eagerness to back away and put as much distance as possible between themselves and the rapture whackjobs, it might be nice to think that Seventh-day Adventists would be willing to say, “Hey, our ancestors made a mistake like that once — here’s what we learned from it.”

I’ve argued before that a denomination that was essentially rooted in a misunderstanding on Biblical prophecy, might perhaps have developed a more humble attitude towards our subsequent attempts to understand the Bible — that you might expect Adventists to be a people whose denominational motto might be, “After all, we might be wrong about this.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. After a beginning that essentially demonstrates how wrong humans can be when trying to understand God’s purposes, we have gone on to build up a church culture that celebrates certainty and rightness. I have no serious theological quibbles with the front page article on the Adventist Review website this week (which essentially says that Camping and his followers are wrong about date-setting and the rapture, but that Jesus is coming soon and we should be ready) but I wish it contained some acknowledgement of our own fallibility in this area.

I’m even less impressed with Doug Batchelor, speaker for the Adventist-affiliated Amazing Facts ministry, who has basically challenged Harold Camping to put his money where his mouth is and sell his ministry to Amazing Facts if he really believes he won’t be here to run it after May 21.  I mean, that’s funny and makes a good headline, but nothing in the Amazing Facts coverage even hints at their Millerite roots or the fact that we as Adventists understand all too well what it feels like to make a bold prophecy and then be publicly disappointed and derided.

Cheap laughs and good headlines seem to be the order of the day for the rest of the world, as people plan “Rapture Pranks” such as leaving little piles of clothes and shoes by the roadside on May 21 to make it look like people have been raptured. I guess what troubles me about this is not just that, as an Adventist, it hits a little too close to home (or that many other Adventists don’t seem to acknowledge just how close to home it hits). It’s that much of the derision, both from the “world” and from more liberal Christians, seems to be directed not just at Camping’s date-setting or at the idea of a secret rapture, but at the idea that the world is ever going to end, that Jesus will ever come back.

And the thing is, I believe he will. I struggle to hold onto that belief sometimes because it does seem incredible, but it’s more than just my Adventist heritage — it’s my faith in God and my knowledge of human nature and human history, that makes it impossible to believe either that we can save ourselves and create paradise on earth, or that God will abandon us and let us destroy ourselves. So, by default, I believe what I’ve been taught since childhood — that there must be a plan for God to intervene. And that puts me, however uneasily, much closer theologically to Harold Camping and all those people who are going to be greatly disappointed on May 22 — and to William Miller and my own Millerite forbears — than to those who are merrily planning Rapture Pranks.

I can’t dictate what the world, or other Christians, or even other Adventists, ought to be saying about the latest Rapture theory, nor can I tell Harold Camping’s followers what they ought to do after May 21 passes and they haven’t been raptured.  But here’s what I say: awkward and ridicule-inducing as it seems, I do believe Scripture teaches there will be a Second Coming, that the Kingdom will be established and the world made new with justice and righteousness for all. But I also know that we humans are never more weak, fallible, and prone to error than when we boldly pronounce that we know exactly when and how this will happen. So let’s hold onto faith and hope, but not forget to have a little charity too — especially for those who end up disappointed.

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17 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Planning any Rapture Pranks

  1. WordPress needs a “like” button. Enjoyed reading this and I couldn’t agree more.

  2. I didn’t know the background of the Adventist before. Interesting. I have the same stand as you on this thing. I loved your last statements “I do believe Scripture teaches there will be a Second Coming, that the Kingdom will be established and the world made new with justice and righteousness for all. But I also know that we humans are never more weak, fallible, and prone to error than when we boldly pronounce that we know exactly when and how this will happen. So let’s hold onto faith and hope, but not forget to have a little charity too — especially for those who end up disappointed.”

  3. If it happens when Camping says it will, I’ll be at a wedding in an Episcopal church. I have a feeling we’ll all make it to the reception.

  4. I wonder how it can be a secret catching away when it has been announced and publicized all over the media? Seems to me that ANY day that has been announced is most likely to NOT be the day that the Lord raptures his Bride. Oddly, as a Bible believing Christian who is awaiting the return of the Lord, I guess it makes me more glad to see that there are some people still counting on His return (no matter how ridiculous their approach) than the billions who don’t know, don’t care, don’t believe. The Bible says that to those who look for his appearing, he will appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Heb.9:28) Most people aren’t even looking. They’re hiding their heads in the sand….

  5. The difficult task for those of us who believe in the return of Jesus but also believe Christ’s plain teaching that “no one knows” when it will happen is to respond to poor, confused souls like Camping in a way that does not hold up the basic teaching to further derision in the secular media and among the general public while clearly conveying the reality of Scripture. Jesus has promised to return and establish His regime on earth. He will not reveal to Harold Camping, William Miller or any other human when this is going to happen. He expects us to live as if Camping happens by accident onto the right day, or even as if it will happen today, a day “early” for Camping. And He expects us to continue to live “in the blessed hope” on Sunday and Monday and however many days He continues to give us life before it happens, as well as to prepare our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to also live their whole lives, if necessary, in that hope. The high calling which Jesus presents to all is to live every day as if it were the day of His return, even if it is a millenium of days.

  6. Perhaps, for many us our first reaction is to be cruel because of the way their message may resonant deep within us. While I do not believe in the “end of days” I do believe that humanity will evolve for the better. There are many days my belief that “humanity will evolve for the better” seems as ludicrous and unlikely as the Christian belief that there is God who will somehow intervene and fix what is wrong with this world. Is my self-doubt fueling my negative reaction to the proclamation from these “end-of-timers” who brashly claim they have the answer? How dare they define something I consider scared because it is so mystical and undefined.

    Thank-you for sharing your thoughts and helping me realize there is nothing to be gained by shredding these “end of timers” for having a different opinion then me. Instead I could focus on the similarity in the two beliefs. In spite of the odds we both believe life is going change for the better. This shared belief perhaps has the power to bring about the change we all believe in.

  7. A very interesting overview, Trudy. It should be noted that the early Adventists never admitted to getting the date wrong, but the “event” that actually occurred on that date, that the door of mercy had been shut and the Investigative Judgment had begun. (Hence, “the hour of His judgment has come.”) This was why the early Adventists were first called “The Shut-door Sabbatarians,” meaning that those who had rejected William Miller’s prophecy had been “shut out” of any hope of salvation. This, to my knowledge is rarely preached or taught by Adventist ministers and teachers, but in the early 80’s became a “Litmus Test” for many church employees, as to whether or not they were true believers. As far as “No man knows the day or the hour” is concerned, some have danced around this (poor choice of words) by saying, “No man knows, but God does, and he may reveal it to those who are pure of heart and willing to search the scriptures diligently…”
    Well, this is turning into a sermon, but your insights have definitely provoked much thought.

    • True, Uncle Jerry, and now Camping has come out and said that May 21 was the beginning of judgement — he was right about the date and wrong about the event. The inability to say “we were wrong” is pretty deep-rooted in the human psyche — even when you’re wrong about predicting an event that your sacred text warns you you shouldn’t try to predict!

  8. I should have specified that it was the doctrine of “The Investigative Judgment” that became the Litmus Test for many ministers and teachers in the early 80’s. “The Shut Door” doctrine was the cornerstone of The Shut-door Sabbatarians until about 1850. EGW said that her early statements endorsing it were made before her first vision.

  9. I did not believe Camping’s prediction for a nano-second. He is just an overpaid egotist.

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