Okay, I had three different people ask me about American Harold Camping’s latest on today’s (May 21, 2011) rapture of souls at 1800hrs, then the end of the world in the Second Coming in October, joined to the expiration (do calendars expire or run out?) of the Mayan calendar in 2012.
It’s taken nearly ten years but I now know that I am really, truly back in the United States where this type of eschatalogical fervor recycles regularly.
Two observations, one before 1800 EDT and one for after.
- First, I remember Matthew 24.36 to keep me humble: “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”
- Second, I break out in praise and joy how our Lord’s physical resurrection announced to the powers of this world that “their time is up!” As the saints in Revelation sing, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.” A physical resurrection is the pledge that this world’s empires will pass away in His righteous judgment.
- Third, so my ministry has a sense of urgency to declare the gospel (2 Timothy 4.1-5) to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 4.3-7).
- Fourth, therefore in the continual proclamation of the of the gospel and the call to repentance is the way in which I “…keep watch”, for I don’t know “what day my Lord is coming” (Matthew 24.42).
I am facing a pastoral decision come Sunday morning. It is not a decision cloaked in a kind of harsh triumphalism and distancing from those whose beliefs about the end of the world didn’t pan out.
Here’s my pastoral decision: how can I proclaim the Gospel to the wounded, having discovered that what they thought was true (so true they were willing to upend their lives over it) was not? If this isn’t true, they will reason, then what other of my deeply held beliefs and convictions and doctrines and hopes might not be true? As a church historian I know that Christians fall away from Christ in these times.
So it is not the time for sarcastic triumphal distancing. It is time for humility, inclusion and gracious teaching. It is an opportunity to proclaim the gospel.
I can begin by showing how Christianity is not founded upon some complex Bible code that needs years of analysis to reveal its secret. No.
Christianity is about Jesus Christ, a man who claimed to be God, who died in full public view as a criminal, and was astonishingly raised from the dead three days later appearing to hundreds of witnesses over forty days. When his followers, who witnessed his resurrection, lived with him for those forty days after and saw him ascend to heaven, began speaking of it publicly, they connected the prophecies of the Old Testament to the life and death and resurrection of this man who claimed the power to forgive sins.
Through searching the scriptures, they saw that their sins were forgiven, they had a purpose for living and a home in heaven.
This is the heart of the Christian faith, the message that deserves to be proclaimed on billboards, sides of buses, and pamphlets all over the world. It is also the message that needs to be preached and reinvested into the hearts and lives of those who found hope and meaning in Harold Camping’s latest bad idea.