Remembering When Chuck Smith Predicted the End Times--And They Didn't Happen

Much is being made right now about some yahoos predicting that the world will end on May 21 because Scripture says so--you know, because such predictions have never been offered in the history of humanity. You can see their billboards around the county, with an added ad to listen to some radio station or other.

Because nothing has happened in the world of the Internet before 2007, many OCers forget that such dumb predictions used to be made all the time by Chuck Smith, founding pastor of the mighty Calvary Chapel movement. Thankfully, we received a random email from a former Calvary Chapel member, who remembers 20 years ago when Smith predicted the end of the world, the whole of Calvary Chapel gathered in its SanTana compound, and...

...nothing happened.

Without further ado, here's the former congregant. And all he asked for payment was a plug for this book. Enjoy!

Save the date: Jesus is coming on May 21 at 6 p.m.
By Paul Griffo

The doomsayers are at it again.

You may have seen the bumper stickers or billboards heralding 5/21/2011 as Judgment Day. The latest nationwide apocalyptic media blitz is sponsored by an 89-year-old radio preacher from Oakland named Harold Camping.

He seems to have uncovered a formula in the Bible for calculating the exact date and time of Christ's return--May 21 at 6 p.m. (He doesn't specify whether that's Pacific Daylight Savings Time, so give or take a few hours.)  And then the world is supposed to end six months later.

Predicting of the end of the world, of course, is nothing new in Christian circles. As a kid in 1971, I remember being enthralled when Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa,  the epicenter of the Jesus Movement, declared that he couldn't imagine the world continuing on for another fifteen to twenty years.

Smith said that if Jesus didn't return, the water wouldn't be drinkable, the air wouldn't be breathable, there wouldn't be enough food for everyone, and the crime rate would be so high you wouldn't be able to go anywhere without being assaulted. Apparently, God forgot to tell Chuck about genetically modified food, vehicle emissions standards, water filters, surveillance cameras, and Rudy Giuliani.

If anyone said that Jesus wasn't coming soon, Smith dismissed them as naysayers. He used a New Testament passage about a fig tree to prove that the "rapture"--when all true believers in Jesus Christ would magically disappear, leaving cars and buses driver-less, and planes pilot-less--was supposed to happen in 1981.

This was to be followed by the rise of the Antichrist and onset of the The Great Tribulation, seven years of the worst turmoil and disaster the world has ever known. At the very end of this seven-year period, Jesus and all his believers would come back to earth riding on white horses to defeat the Antichrist and all his evil followers, casting them into the lake of fire. It was better than a Hulk or Superman movie--and I could have a role in it!

Pastor Chuck, as he likes to be called, would get the congregation worked up to a fever pitch, especially when world events transpired that seemed like they were happening in fulfillment of an end-times Bible prophecy.

One New Year's Eve service, after there had been reports of Arab-Israeli hostilities, Smith came out with a huge grin and addressed a congregation eager for  Armageddon by saying, "It's kinda like waiting for the Rose Parade!" which was followed by raucous laughter. (See, it was supposed to be funny that we were going to be in heaven, and everyone else, including our "unsaved" parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents would be left down here to "take the mark of the beast."

If they refused the tattoo of 666, they wouldn't be able to buy food, and would probably be executed for treason. If they received the mark, then the Book of Revelation says they would suffer the wrath of God, which included mountains falling on them and being tormented by creatures that had scorpions' tails and lion's heads with sharp teeth.  

Smith would also get a big laugh every time there was an earthquake in Southern California. He would pray, "Shake 'em up, Lord! Let 'em know you're comin'!" I bet the families of the 49 patients who were crushed to death when the San Fernando Veteran's Administration Hospital collapsed on them during the Sylmar quake in 1971 didn't get the joke.

Ten years later, a lot of people came to the 1981 New Year's Eve Service not expecting to go home that night, because Smith had been telling them for more than a decade that the rapture had to happen before the end of 1981. No one was laughing when the service was over.

They all left the parking lot after midnight, realizing they now had to face 1982, earthbound and disillusioned. And that meant having to endure the jeers of their friends to whom they'd explained the whole prophetic chart that showed 1981 was the year they would disappear in the rapture. Many never to returned to Calvary Chapel. Some left Christianity altogether. Others just changed their end-times beliefs.

I feel some empathy for the people who now believe Harold Camping, because as a child I believed Chuck Smith. I looked up to him as a man of God rather than one in a long line of eccentrics who have tried and failed to predict the end of the world.

Years later, Smith offered a wimpy non-apology, saying that setting dates was wrong and he "came close" to doing that. He attributed his error to a hobby of trying to correlate current events to biblical prophecies. Unfortunately, Smith never gave up his little hobby, and has since spawned hundreds of thousands of end-times clones who are involved in the very same nonsense.

To those who are waiting to be "raptured" on May 21, I have one simple challenge: If you really believe it, legally transfer all your possessions and your money to me now.  I'll be waiting to hear from you.


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