Judgment Day or just another Saturday? Valley churches say no one knows - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Judgment Day or just another Saturday? Valley churches say no one knows

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Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011 11:40 am | Updated: 12:35 am, Mon May 30, 2011.

No, you're not getting out of going to church on Sunday.

Billboards around the Valley are proclaiming that Saturday is Judgment Day - when Jesus' believers will go to heaven - but Valley churches haven't cancelled Sunday's services.

Leaders at nondenominational churches, as well as those tied to organized faith groups, say there's no way anyone can announce with certainty that the end of the world is near, let alone on Saturday. They point to biblical statements that no one knows when that time will come.

And yet, the billboards backed by Family Radio Worldwide, which proclaims itself a nondenominational Christian ministry started by Harold Camping and based in Oakland, Calif., claim otherwise.

Camping says through Biblical study and mathematics - he's an engineer by training - he has discovered that May 21, 2011, will be the Rapture, a time Jesus' believers will leave the earth and go to heaven. Camping predicts that in October, five months later, the world will come to an end.

Camping has made similar predictions in the past, with news reports saying he claims he miscalculated the date or that he was referring to the end of the "church age."

Charles Barfoot, an ASU professor who teaches religious studies and sociology of religion, said there are a lot of apocalyptic conversations going on nowadays. It was evident, he said, this spring during his religion and popular culture course.

Several students gave presentations about the end times, from the belief the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world in 2012 (because the calendar ends) to discussions on the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan as indicating the time is near.

Barfoot grew up the son of Pentecostal ministers in California. In the 1960s, the area had an "incredible apocalyptic" feel to it then, in part because of the wars at the time worldwide, he said. He remembers a man from his church leaving to go live in caves because the world was coming to an end.

"The second coming was clearly emphasized," Barfoot said.

The 1906 earthquake in California sparked another apocalyptic phase. In fact, a look at history clear back to Jesus' time shows multiple periods when people believed time was soon going to stop.

"That sense of the end of the world, the first Christians obviously thought that they were living in the last days," Barfoot said.

Today is no different.

"My first reaction is that it's certainly in the air with the Middle East turmoil, the earthquake. I was telling my wife the other day, ‘People like Pat Robertson will be online or doing something because of the tornadoes, floods, the earthquake in Japan.' It's been an endless array of disasters," he said.

One large local church, Cornerstone in Chandler, is tackling the topic in its current sermon series.

The End of Days billboard the church put up on the Santan Freeway shows a dark chaotic scene with buildings burning. Attendance has spiked since the series began three weeks ago (it goes on two more weeks) and many are taking the time to watch the sermons on the church's website, said Rick Calcutt, executive pastor of creative arts at the church.

The series looks at what the Bible says about the fact that there will be an "end of days," Calcutt said. "Prophecies in the Bible are accurate that one day God is going to say, ‘Enough is enough' and it's going to be the end."

The topic isn't an easy one, but it's something that's on many people's minds, Calcutt said. In fact, the church moved the series to after Easter because there was such a buzz about it.

"I think everyone knows things can't go on forever and ever, even if you're not spiritually minded. People know there's an end and they're wondering what it is. Hollywood has made it a sexy topic," with movies like "2012" and "Apocalypse," he said.

As for the May 21 date, Calcutt said: "The bible is clear. We do not know when that day is."

Cindy Packard, spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Greater Phoenix Area, issued a similar statement: "No one knows the time of his coming, but the faithful are taught to study the signs of it and to be prepared for it."

Packard said the LDS church believes in "Jesus Christ as our Savior and we try to follow his teachings every day of our lives so that we will be prepared for the Second Coming - whenever that may be. The scriptures teach us if we are prepared we shall not fear. The billboards are a good reminder that we must continue to live worthy for that day."

The Mormon church teaches that Jesus will return to the earth "in power and great glory to reign personally during a millennium of righteousness and peace," Packard said. "At the time of His coming everyone will recognize the truth of who he is."

With the topic and growing media coverage of the story, some are taking their opinions to the Internet.

Valley resident and former corporate public communications director Peter Faur, 61, wrote a blog (peterfaur.com) about the billboards. His blog's subtitle is "Tips and thoughts about communicating and living in the 21st century."

Faur was raised a member of the Lutheran church, attending Lutheran schools from grade school through college.

"I've always been skeptical of end times type people, Rapture type people," he told the Tribune. "Everything in my background says you don't worry about the end times. Martin Luther was asked once, ‘What would you do if you knew you would die tomorrow?' Luther said, ‘I'd plant a tree. I'd go about my life as it was and as it is and I'd try to do something positive for future generations.'"

Faur said that's the Christian message.

"My life, and I think a lot of Christians' lives, is dedicated to not looking at the end times but the here and now and trying to do what you can to make it a better here and now and trying to be transformed in the process so you can do that."

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