PUNXSUTAWNEY — Although they have not sponsored billboards or painted their automobiles with scripture verses or distributed tracts, a number of area ministers realize that there are people in the United States and around the globe, who earnestly believe that May 21 will be Judgment Day, when Christ returns to gather the faithful before the end of the physical world occurs in October.
Based upon timelines which Harold Camping derived by cross-referencing various dates in the Bible, the movement has gained international impetus through the non-denominational Family Radio Network, which Camping helped to establish in 1958. His pinpointing of the exact date for Judgment Day has become the mobilizing force for like-believers to “sound the warning,” and those activities, in turn, have become the center of discussion and debate.
As a follow-up to a story in the March 26 edition, The Punxsutawney Spirit recently asked members of the local clergy to share their views upon the predicted return of Christ next week. Summaries of their concerns and questions about May 21 reveal a common theme: Such warnings are nothing new; therefore, all believers should live each day, fully prepared to face their Creator no matter what day is on the calendar.
Pastor John Buchmann, of the Punxsutawney Alliance Church, said he thinks the courage and concern of those who believe that Judgment Day will come on May 21 are commendable.
“I spoke with one of the people sharing their concern on Groundhog Day, and we had a positive discussion,” he said.
Yet Buchmann said his concern is about what will happen to the faith of those “who believe Judgment Day will occur that day if the event does not happen as they expect. Will they be disillusioned? Will they abandon all faith if this prophecy does not come true?
“The Bible clearly teaches that what God says will come true,” he said. “In fact, ‘If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.’ (Deuteronomy 18:22).”
Buchmann said, “Most Christians believe Jesus is coming back, because Jesus said, ‘If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.’ (John 14:3) Most Christians believe we don’t know when He will return. His disciples looked into the sky where he went, and His followers have been watching and waiting ever since. Some skeptics are amused that He hasn’t returned yet. But Jesus told us to ‘keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.’ (Matthew 24:42) He also said that no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matthew 24:36)
“We do believe Judgment Day is coming,” Buchmann said. “Our only question is when. It could be the 21st of May, but it could be any time before or after that date as well. Of this, we can be sure; it is closer than it has ever been.”
Pastor Al Kimmel, of the Cross Town United Methodist Ministries, posed the question, “Will anything happen on May 21, 2011?” His answer: Yes.
Kimmel said he acknowledges that Family Radio founder Harold Camping is a knowledgeable Bible student, someone whom Kimmel has listened to different times and has “always been impressed at his ability to lead callers to certain passages of Scripture which connect to questions they bring to the show.”
“However, for him to claim wisdom given to him through the power of the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture which other believers, theologians and students of the Bible cannot grasp appears to me to be arrogant,” he said.
Kimmel cited Revelation 1:3: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.”
“As the end of time begins to unfold, and we see the signs appear, the blessing will be that we will recognize what is happening,” Kimmel said. “The same chapter of Revelation also says in Verse 7: ‘Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and on His account all the tribes of earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.’ When the day comes, I believe we will all know it at the same moment.”
Kimmel said he believes there is a Judgment Day approaching, but unlike Camping, he does not know when that day will come.
“As I read the Gospel of Matthew (24:36-39), that places me in good company,” he said. “The passage reads: ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son but only the Father. For as the days on Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.’ So, I will stand in my ignorance along with Jesus and the angels.”
In terms of May 21, 2011, Kimmel said a true believer will accept death unafraid, “because he trusts in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One who never accepted the free gift of grace offered to him by Jesus will quake at the thought of closing his eyes in death.
“Someone will be told they have cancer; another will receive a miraculous healing that doctors cannot explain,” he said. “Babies will be born; the aged will die. Some will laugh; others will cry. If Jesus would happen to return on that day, the only thing that will matter to any person is the relationship they have with Him. That is the only thing that will save us from Judgment Day.”
Kimmel said he and Camping share a common concern: “We desire for people to accept the saving grace of Jesus Christ. However, we certainly approach the delivery of the message in different ways.
“I stated that I thought Mr. Camping to be arrogant,” Kimmel said. “Therefore, I make a statement, and perhaps he will think the same of me. He feels he has been called to deliver this message of doom, to send out a warning.
“Here is a warning for Mr. Camping: Revelation 22:18 and 19: ‘I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.’ You’ve been warned, Mr. Camping.”
Mary C. Lewis
The Rev. Mary C. Lewis, pastor of the First Baptist Church, said, “Throughout history, there have always been people who believed that the times in which they lived were the worst times, and, thus, the end of the world was near.
“Jesus did speak of signs,” she said. “In Matthew (24:6-8), for example, we read: ‘And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.’ Numerous individuals have made predictions as to when Christ would come back. Yet, the world is still here.”
(Note: Camping himself earlier predicted that Judgment Day would take place in September 1994, although he wrote, “A possibility does exist that I could be wrong.”)
Having read some of the material on the Web sites of the May 21 proponents, Lewis finds that the timeline for determining the exact day is based upon dates chosen at random in order to carry out the premise that, when the Scriptures say that “a thousand years are as a day to God,” there is an assumption that the statement is to be taken as literal. Others view the verse as a literary comparison to emphasize that “God is outside of time: He was, He is, and He always will be,” she said.
The arrival of Judgment Day, according to Camping, can be proven through a timeline that stems from the creation of the world as having taken place in 11,013 B.C. and the Great Flood occurring in 4990 B.C.
“To me, there seems to be too much focus upon a single person, and what he says he has found from his study of the Bible,” Lewis said. “There seems to be too much stressing a date rather than a belief in Jesus. It is difficult to agree with those who advocate that there are special codes and hidden patterns in the scriptures which are revealed only to those who have special knowledge.”
Supporters of Family Radio emphasize that they are not a church, and that God has indicated that the age of the church has ended. In fact, believers are urged to flee mainline churches. Individual effort through prayer and Bible study is now the key to a closer relationship to the Lord and the hope of salvation that He offers.
Lewis points out, however, that “the Bible teaches us that we need to be in church. In Hebrews 10:24 and 25, we are told, ‘Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.’
“I feel sad that some people are building their faith on sand, as it were; it cannot stand if is is based upon individual interpretation instead of actual scripture,” she said.
Summarizing her comments, Lewis said, “I came across a meaningful quotation from Saint Isaac in the 7th century. He wrote, ‘Prepare your heart for your departure. If you are wise, you will expect it every hour.’ Believers know that Jesus advised us to ‘watch and be prepared.’ We must walk with God on a consistent, daily basis, realizing that we must live our lives as though any day could be the day.”
James Pond and
Bill Young Jr.
At the First United Methodist Church, senior pastor, the Rev. James Pond, and associate pastor, Bill Young Jr., agree that the controversy over May 21 is serving some worthwhile purposes.
“This discussion reminds people that Jesus is indeed coming,” Pond said. “That’s a good thing, truly awesome. It’s causing people to read the Bible more and to see more connections among the books of scripture.”
Young concurred by noting that “this end-time issue has some great benefits. People are taking caution about the date and asking questions that they were not used to asking before. They’re asking themselves, ‘What’s wrong with the way I am living?’ Discussing Jesus’ teachings and the way to live for Him is an opportunity for the faithful to look deeper into the scriptures to learn who God is, who Jesus is, and to learn how we can serve Him.”
Commenting that “prophetic conjecture about the return of Christ is nothing new,” Pond cautioned that the Family Radio movement, however, poses some problems.
“People are being urged to pull away from the traditional churches; yet, we realize that it is in those churches where people can come together to discuss God’s word and discover what truths it reveals,” he said.
Pond also said that “hearing and reading a single prophetic teaching can cause people to start putting things together that the scriptures do not intend to be there. There is danger in taking things out of context and using those ideas as the basis for your belief.
“Forming one’s own theology and relying upon it reminds me that the people in Christ’s time who were most immersed in the scriptures (the scribes and Pharisees) were the ones who failed to see that Jesus was the Messiah,” Young added.
The possibility that May 22 may dawn without Christ having returned as predicted causes Pond to feel “a great sadness” for all those whose faith is centered upon one man’s belief in a specific date for the Second Coming. He said, “My heart is filled with concern for them.”
“Will they be deeply wounded or will their spirits truly be hurt?” Young wondered. “It’s a scary thought. What will they do if the prediction doesn’t come true?”
Furthermore, Young said, “If the May 21 prophecy proves to be wrong, it could cause other people to reject a relationship they could have had with Jesus. They will say that the Bible is wrong (rather than the people who made the prediction). That is a great concern about all this.
“But,” Young concluded, “we know that the King is coming. We just don’t know when. He is returning; there’s no doubt about that.”
The Rev. Maureen Seifried, pastor of the First English and Mount Zion Lutheran Churches, said she finds it difficult to accept the idea that anyone has been given the ability to announce a specific date for the Second Coming of Christ.
Pointing out that even great church leaders such as Paul and Martin Luther believed that Christ would come back in their lifetime, Seifried remarked that “since people do not know, they need to be alert and ready all the time for Jesus’ return.”
Seifried quoted Matthew 24:36: “‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.’ I think it is dangerous for a human being to claim that he knows the exact mind of God.”
Those who study such topics as the numerology of the Bible “need to be careful that they don’t mislead themselves into making the scriptures the center of worship rather than God. The human mind is not capable of understanding everything … only God can.”
In the meantime, then, Seifried explained, “My belief and my teachings center around our need to be living as Christ would have us do each day. We need to worship, study the scriptures, be baptized, receive communion, and continue to do acts of charity and love.”
Saddened by the fact that Family Radio followers believe that established churches are no longer a key element in God’s plans for mankind, Seifried said, “Gathering together is so important. Jesus told us that even if two or three are there, He will be with them. As the church, we need to hear, study, and discuss the scriptures and share the sacraments. He has promised us that He will be with us until the end of the age.”
Sitting around and waiting for Judgment Day is contrary to the pastor’s beliefs about the purpose of believers’ lives. She said, “Jesus set us the example. He took time to withdraw to pray, but He always went back to help the sick and feed the hungry. We are to be like him: Feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, clothing the naked, and being a source of light and hope to the world.”
“Since we cannot know when Christ will return,” she said, “we have a calling to be productive people in society. If we keep living and following His gospel, we will be prepared, no matter when He comes.”
Smiling, Seifried concluded, “I’m supposed to be on vacation on May 21, but I’ll be ready because I try to be ready every day for Christ’s return. It won’t disappoint me if it doesn’t take place on that date. Jesus will come when God wants Him to. I’ll be happy just to know that one day He will raise me to new life where I will have a place in God’s eternal kingdom.”