Every I go on the internet folks are abuzz with talk about the date of May 21 and the fellow named Harold Camping who prophesies that the Rapture will occur on that date. As it happens, I feel the spirit of prophecy descending on me right now, and I predict that neither the Rapture nor any other major end-times related event will occur on May 21. However, my prophecy goes somewhat beyond that.
First let’s cover some background. Almost every article about Camping and his prediction of imminent doom mentions that he’s far from being the first to take this approach. Many religious leaders (and a few secular ones) have pinpointed the date on which the apocalypse will occur. The most famous is William Miller, an American preacher who figured on the End in roughly 1843. As that year dragged into 1844, members of his flock somehow settled on the date of October 22, 1844, later known as the “Great Disappointment”. While it’s easy to mock Miller, he was not an ignorant, backwoods hick. He was a smart man who organized thousands of people into a well-oiled organization for getting his message out, and convinced huge crowds of his correctness. While there were plenty of other would-be prophets and even the occasional messiah running around New York and New England in the early nineteenth century, none could match Miller’s success, temporary though it was.
While the Millerites may not have had much to say on Oct. 23, 1844, they have a message for us today, and one that Christians would ignore at our own peril. First, we can’t just dismiss folks like Camping as nuts, tempting though it may be. They have the power to start huge movements if left unchecked. The second is that we need to be aware of how ideas are spreading these days. Just as Miller employed the means of communication available in his time, Camping has used the internet to drum up publicity while bypassing all churches, all major Christian publications, and all other gatekeepers. In the internet age anyone can get a worldwide following and get it remarkably quickly. Those who can’t adapt to this new situation will eventually find themselves obsolete. Just as newspapers are crumbling now that most of us get our news online and academics can’t adapt to the fact their periodicals are rapidly becoming pointless, similarly some of the older Christian media risk irrelevancy if they don’t pay attention to this sort of stuff. That is my prophecy and it will still be valid on May 22.