Prophecy Boutiques

The typical American housewife (which includes me) who needs some new clothes usually heads off to one of the mass-merchandise stores to shop the racks. If the family budget is tight, she may go to a discount store like Walmart or Kmart.

If times are a bit more prosperous, she may choose JC Penney or another chain department store at the local mall. The clothes there may be a little higher quality than Walmart, but each item will still be available in mass quantities. And most items will be fairly bland, run-of-the-mill styles. So if you live in a town or small city, chances are pretty good that you can show up at a party or meeting in the same new blouse as another attendee.

But those who have a more prosperous income are not stuck with clothes from Kmart and its clones. They can choose instead to do their clothes shopping in “boutiques.”

A clothing boutique is a small, unique store that specializes in carrying limited quantities of high-fashion, unusual, sometimes one-of-a-kind… and almost always fairly expensive … styles. If you shop at such stores, you will probably stand out in your crowd with your fashion choices.

It dawned on me recently that the world of prophecy panic button-pushing pundits has its share of men who offer “boutique- style” prophetic schemes. The average end-times-prophecy speculator is often satisfied with just constantly re-shuffling the same old tired styles of theories … based on rummaging in Daniel and Revelation and Matthew 24, and using creative math to play with juggling the familiar numbers of 2520, 1260, 1335, and such. Such theories have been a dime a dozen in the past 150 years, the equivalent of mass-merchandise clothing.

But a few men have come up with their own Boutique Prophecy theories. Each is one-of-a-kind, highly idiosyncratic, and designed to bedazzle readers or listeners with how this Astounding New Truth stands out from the crowd. Why, it is so convoluted and complex it just MUST be true!

In this blog entry I’d like to share three examples of such Boutique Prophecy.

JR Church

J.R. Church, who died March 22, 2011, had been a popular author and speaker in End Times Prophecy circles for decades, spreading his theories via his Prophecy in the News TV show and numerous books. He is most famous for his 1986 book Hidden Prophecies in the Psalms, which alleged that the Psalms contain a hidden prophetic guide to the Twentieth Century.

In other words, something in Psalm 1 applied to the prophetically significant events of 1901, Psalm 86 applied to 1986 and so on. Using utterly speculative and fanciful interpretations of vague passages (much like many writers play with the obscure ramblings in the 16th Century writings of Nostradamus), he strongly hinted in the first edition of his book that 1988 would be the year of the pre-tribulation Rapture. This would be followed by the Tribulation for 1989-1994, and the return of Christ in 1995.

When none of this panned out, it didn’t stop him or even slow him down. In later writings he just re-interpreted the vague passages to imply what did happen in those years. And of course, since the Rapture didn’t occur in the 20th Century, someone enamored of his theory can just move on into the 21st Century. Psalm 100 would be 2000, Psalm 101 would be 2001, and so on. We are now up to Psalm 112.

Thus, in spite of the fact that his theory had absolutely no predictive value as advertised, he still continued right up to his death using his Nostradamus-style gimmick to sell books, gather and keep a TV audience, and garner invitations to speak at prophecy seminars and conventions. And his associates have kept his ministry alive after his death, still promoting his old books and old theory. There’s no accounting for the gullibility of folks who are desperate for someone to tell them “secret things.”

One blogger loyal to JR’s theory wrote the following in 2009. “Cindybythesea” was inspired by his work to come up with her own dogmatic explanation of what was going to transpire in 2010:

 …I want to share what I find to be an astonishing confirmation that the seventy year period starting in 1948 [with the founding of the modern country of Israel] and ending in 2018 indeed corresponds with Psalm 48 and ends with Psalm 118. When I began to read these Psalms with their prophetic nature in mind, the 118th Psalm virtually jumped off the page at me.  From what is implied in these very precise scriptures, in the year 2018, is that, the seven year tribulation will be over and the Messiah will begin his reign from Jerusalem in the Messianic kingdom.  How do I know this?  Three verses tell me without a doubt, this is so.

The picture I am getting from this study and others is that the course of events that are now unfolding will be culminated by 2018 – which may in actuality be the Feast of Tabernacles of 2017, because the Jewish calendar changes before ours does (theirs change in Sept, ours in January). The tribulation of seven years duration, then, would in my humble opinion, begin in the year 2010 which in actuality begins next weekend at Rosh Hashanah [2009], when the Jewish calendar changes to the year 5770.  With that in mind, will we who are waiting and watching for the soon return of the Lord still be here after that????   The Feast of Trumpets next weekend is highly symbolic of the bridegroom coming for the bride, so, we may well be gone – we’ll talk about that in my next post.  Until then, keep looking up! Jesus is coming soon!

To answer your question, cindybythesea—Yes, you who were waiting and watching were still there after that. And are still there now, unless, like JR himself, some of you have passed on.

JR’s Boutique has obviously been a successful business. At least in terms of raking in profits for books and videos and more. It did not, however, add anything tangible and credible to the understanding of “where we are in Bible prophecy” as it had promised.

One thing you have to give JR, though. He merely speculated that the Psalms in the Bible provided broad hidden prophecies about conditions that applied to the whole world. The next Boutique Boy has been quite a bit more splendiferous in his personal claims. The hidden prophecies HE claimed to find applied directly to him and his ministry.

David J. Smith

David J. Smith was at one time a student of the teachings of prophetic prognosticator Herbert W Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, the Plain Truth magazine, and the World Tomorrow radio and TV program. In 1980, Smith branched off to start his own ministry. It is done under the auspices of an organization he dubbed the Church of God Evangelistic Association. His main outlet has been a TV program and magazine both titled  Newswatch.

David J does not rely just on interpreting the Bible for his prophetic understandings. He has claimed direct divine personal communication from God, as well as his own development of extra-biblical methods of prognostication. JR at least used a book from the Bible for his method. David J stepped away from the Bible and built an elaborate theory based on …the Greek Lexicon from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance!

On a sermon tape made and distributed to his supporters in 1996, he used that Lexicon to establish a prophetic scenario which he applied to his own ministry. He pointed out to his listeners the English translations of the Greek words in the Lexicon that were numbered 1996, 1997,1998, and 1999.

And then he challenged his listeners to “decide for themselves” if perhaps these meanings had “prophetic significance” in them for the years 1996-1999. Prophetic significance, that is, for those who were either in, or thinking about joining, his group of followers. This gimmick of painting an elaborate word picture (full of obvious implications that Smith himself is totally convinced of its validity), but then baiting the listeners that they can “decide for themselves” if it is true or not, is typical of Smith’s preaching. He leaves little doubt how foolish he will consider the listener who doesn’t accept the obvious implications. Yet he absolves himself of any “direct statement” that his speculations are in fact dogmatic truth.

Here are the word definitions as given by Strong…

1996 “to gather”

1997 “assembling, gathering together”

1998 “to hasten together, come running together”

1999 “a conspiracy, i.e., a concourse, riotous or friendly”

Smith does not teach that a Rapture to heaven of believers will occur before the Great Tribulation. His teaching is that believers will be divinely protected somewhere on Earth during that time.  Thus the implication in all this fiddling with the Lexicon was that the “Place of Safety” during the Great Tribulation was with him and his followers, gathered near his headquarters in Waxahachie, Texas. If you came to Waxahachie in 1996, you could take your time. In 1997 you really ought to start taking this seriously lest you be left out of the “ingathering.” If you waited until 1998 you better come running, and you might even be chased. And by 1999 it might be too late because of the riots expected to be gathering steam as the Tribulation began in earnest in 2000.

In the tape he made it clear that the only thing “holding back” the rise of the Beast power and time of Tribulation was the faithful remnant with him. David J has always had a fairly small following, but some of those folks have been rabidly dedicated to his teachings. Some did indeed leave jobs and homes and even families in order to move to Waxahachie in time.

David J’s Boutique has been indeed unique. Buying into his scenario cost some people everything they had. Many of those early supporters are now disillusioned, since, just as with JR, his theory had absolutely no predictive value as advertised. But as with most such pundits, there is nothing to stop him from gathering new supporters with his latest theories. And he continues to do so to this day.  (For more background on his ministry, check out my David J Smith profile on my Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion website.  )

David J was able to get customers for his very unique boutique, but he couldn’t hold a candle to his mentor’s sales career.

Herbert W. Armstrong

Herbert W. Armstrong had been publicly predicting the imminent Return of Christ over the airwaves and in print since 1934. In that year he had dogmatically declared in his new Plain Truth magazine that the world had already entered the time period referred to in the Bible as the “Tribulation,” and that Jesus would return in 1936.

But when his 1936 scenario didn’t play out as he had expected, he didn’t give up. Throughout the period of World War II he kept proclaiming that The End was at the door, encouraging the listeners to his World Tomorrow radio program and the readers of the Plain Truth to send generous, even sacrificial, donations to him quickly so that he could warn the world before it was too late.

When the War ended with peace rather than Armageddon, he was no doubt puzzled. But it barely slowed him down in his predictions. At first he insisted in the pages of the Plain Truth that Adolf Hitler was still alive, hiding in South America and ready at any moment to “rise again” to take the reins of a resurrected Roman Empire in Europe that would bring a time of Great Tribulation to the world. But as the years after the War drug on, it became obvious that this was becoming less and less likely.

And then came an “astounding” discovery by a young protégé’ of Armstrong, Herman Hoeh, of an alleged prophetic “nineteen year time cycle” pattern of history. Finally Armstrong had something that he could once again use to convince his supporters that they needed to sacrifice financially to help him tackle the “herculean task ahead.”

As with David J, Armstrong managed to concoct from this his own Boutique Prophecy theory. This theory was definitely unique to his own ministry … since it put that ministry squarely in the center of prophetic history. ONLY Armstrong’s own organization could spread the TRUE Gospel to the whole world, and assure the Return of Christ right on God’s timetable.

Here is how Armstrong explained Hoeh’s bombshell to his supporters in a “Co-Worker Letter” 5/22/53 (the ALL CAPS sections were in his original letter—Herbert was addicted to the use of ALL CAPS … and copious exclamation points… for EMPHASIS):

Listen now to an ASTOUNDING fact! God has set TIME running in cycles of 19 years. Just once every 19 years the days, divided by the sun; the months, divided by the new moons; and the years, divided by the revolution of the earth around the sun, all come into exact conjunction. Thus God’s NATURE runs in 19-year cycles. That is important. Now see what has happened.

It took just ONE COMPLETE CYCLE of 19 years for this work to grow from nothing until it carried the very Gospel of Jesus all over the North American continent in mighty POWER! That 19-year cycle ended, and the second 19-year cycle began, during the first quarter of this present year, 1953!

The very start of the second 19-year cycle marked the beginning of proclaiming this Gospel to ALL EUROPE and THE BRITISH ISLES! It must still go to Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia. WHEN it has spanned the world, THEN the END OF THE WORLD shall come! The disciples asked Jesus WHEN this world would end, and His second coming occur. He said THIS Gospel shall go around the world, and THEN shall the end come!

Now HERE IS SOMETHING STARTLING! Herman Hoeh, in his eye-opening article you will read in the June number of The PLAIN TRUTH on the Times of the Gentiles shows that the Times of the Gentiles—if chronologies are correct—will come to their final end in the year 1982. Very few have ever rightly understood the Times of the Gentiles—what they are, or when they end. They are to last until all the Gentile nations come to ACKNOWLEDGE that God is the real RULER over all nations and men. They will not acknowledge that when Christ first comes. Instead, they shall fight against Him—at Armageddon—and resist His rule. Christ shall rebuke strong nations afar off UNTIL (Moffatt translation) they recognize these truths. Christ will have to send famine, and then plagues, in successive YEARS, upon the Egyptians, before they will acknowledge Him as rightful RULER (Zech. 14).

Now if this chronology is correct, that means Christ shall return some very few years PRIOR to 1982! NO MAN KNOWS THE DAY, HOUR, OR YEAR OF CHRIST’S RETURN. But we CAN know exact dates of one or two other events. Jesus also still has to complete the confirming of the COVENANT—the NEW Covenant—with Israel for 3 1/2 years after He comes, according to the prophecy of Daniel’s “70 weeks.” (Dan. 9:24-27). The last half of that 70th “week” (actual 7 years) remains to be fulfilled after Christ’s return. He was “cut off” by being crucified after 3 1/2 years of confirming the covenant (Rom. 15:8 and Dan. 9:27). We do not know, however, whether this last 3 1/2 years to take place after Christ’s coming will coincide with the period required for the Gentile nations to come to acknowledge Christ as WORLD RULER.

Then, besides, there are two other 3 1/2-year periods prophesied to occur prior to Christ’s coming. The first of these begins with the invasion of America and Britain in World War 3. THEREFORE we have a TOTAL OF THREE 3 1/2-year periods, or 10 1/2 years, which MUST occur between the invasion of America and the ending of the Times of the Gentiles. The invasion of the United States with HYDROGEN-bombs that shall destroy our cities, therefore, must BEGIN at least 10 1/2 years PRIOR to the ending of the Times of the Gentiles! IF THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES END IN 1982, in October, as Mr. Hoeh has it figured, THE INVASION OF AMERICA AND THE GREAT TRIBULATION MUST BEGIN NOT LATER THAT MARCH-APRIL, 1972!

It could begin sooner. This date is hypothetical, not definite. But apparently it cannot begin LATER than that date. One chronology sets this disaster TEN YEARS from now! But March- April, 1972 is the LATEST POSSIBLE DATE.

NOW SEE WHAT THAT MEANS! That date is exactly 19 years from March-April this year, 1953! It is exactly 19 years—ONE COMPLETE CYCLE—from the time the FIRST cycle of this great work of God ended!

WHAT A TREMENDOUS SIGNIFICANCE THAT HAS! Think of it! God allowed us one exact complete cycle of 19 years for proclaiming CHRIST’S GOSPEL to all North America—all the United States, Canada, and Mexico! At the START of the second 19-year cycle, GOD OPENED THE DOOR to ALL EUROPE! And the MILITARY INVASION that shall END all true Gospel preaching is apparently to strike at the precise END of this second 19-year period—the spring of 1972— EXACTLY 19 YEARS FROM NOW!

It took one cycle of 19 years to spread this work to all North America. There remains exactly one more 19-year cycle to spread it to ALL THE WORLD!

Surely I have NEVER before had anything so startling—so SIGNIFICANT—to write to you Co-Workers! Can you grasp the MEANING of it? Do you realize just HOW SHORT a time 19 years really is? To me it seems this past 19 years, since the work on the radio and by printing press began, has whizzed by like a jet plane. Yes, IT IS TIME FOR US TO WAKE UP! Time is short. We have a herculean task ahead!

Since Herbert had already absolutely dogmatically claimed in 1934 that Jesus would be returning in 1936, it’s not quite clear why this 19-year time cycle information, pointing to a 1975 Return, should be considered more startling.

But it sure made for a one-of-a-kind prophecy theory to peddle in Herbert’s Boutique!

As with JR and David J, Herbert’s theory had absolutely no predictive value as advertised. The second 19 year cycle came and went, and the world bumbled on. But it didn’t slow down Herbert’s ministry. Between the failure of the prophecy in 1975, and Herbert’s death in 1986, his Worldwide Church of God grew to over 100,000 members. His Plain Truth magazine reached a peak circulation into the millions. And his organization was buying more broadcast time for the World Tomorrow programs than any other religious broadcast in the world. (You can read more about the history of Armstrong’s efforts on my Field Guide website.)

Multiple religious organizations branched off from the Worldwide Church of God after Herbert’s death, and many of them still base their own credibility as “prophetic ministries” on honoring Herbert’s career as a prophecy pundit and incorporating his history into their own.

Common sense would indicate that this is ridiculous. Just as with JR and David J, nothing Herbert Armstrong taught about prophecy throughout his career added anything tangible and credible to the understanding of “where we are in Bible prophecy.” But most people fascinated by prophecy speculation are blind to the need for common sense in evaluating such speculation. They are easily swept along by irrational paranoia.

Which is why so many men are so successful in getting followers … and generous financial supporters … by pushing Prophecy Panic Buttons.

Whether they are selling mass-marketing prophetic speculation, or have their own little Prophecy Boutiques.

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