But it serves as a reminder that people should live as if this day could be the last, they said.
"I've already received an email today, as fate would have it, saying 'What do I do about that? Should I be frightened about that?" said David Cotton, parish associate at First Presbyterian Church of Manasquan and manager of Pastoral Care at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
"As a Christian, I completely believe that Jesus coming back is a good thing, a beautiful thing, a positive thing. He's going to restore the earth to the Garden of Eden. It's nothing but good, and to scare people and frighten people has it backwards," Cotton said.
People believe Camping because he speaks as if his words are "gospel truth," Cotton said. "He doesn't say, 'This is my opinion,' or, 'This is what I think,' or 'This is what I've conjured up.' He says it as if it's a foregone conclusion."
"For better or for worse, religious figures have some authority that's built into their position. When they do good things, that authority is a positive. When they go down in flames or misrepresent the gospel for financial reasons or for personal reasons, then that authority works the wrong way," he said.
So says Carlos Wilton, pastor of Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church and an adjunct professor at New Brunswick Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Divinity from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.
"When Jesus’ own disciples ask him to slip them some insider information on when he will return, his first response is to sternly warn them about false prophets who traffic in just that sort of hot tip: 'Beware that no one leads you astray' (Matthew 24:4). Rather astoundingly to our ears, Jesus goes on to admit that not even he is privy to that information ('But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father'- v. 36)," said Wilton.
"[Camping] is a civil engineer and religious-broadcasting entrepreneur who’s lacking any formal theological training. In recent years, Mr. Camping has distanced himself from any denominational affiliation, which means he’s also shed all accountability to any religious authority larger than himself, who might restrain his wild imaginings," he said.
"A self-taught Bible 'expert,' Mr. Camping specializes in the obscure interpretative method known as numerology – a field without standards or discipline, that sets aside the main message of the scriptures to concentrate on otherwise-insignificant peripheral details, such as numbers," Wilton concluded.
Even so, he refused to dismiss Camping's prediction outright.
"Could Mr. Camping be right in seeing the 21st of May as the day of Jesus Christ’s return? Of course he could. Jesus says no one knows the day or the hour. If I claimed to know otherwise, I’d be just as guilty of narcissism as he," said Wilton.
Will Graham is the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham and an ordained Southern Baptist minister. He is preparing to preach at the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration May 20-22 at the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove.
"The fact of the matter is that none of us are guaranteed a tomorrow. None of us know for certain when we will breath our last breath, and we are all a heartbeat away from eternity. Whether you stand before God on May 21st, or whether you stand before Him 50 years from now, is irrelevant in the scope of eternity. The important thing isn’t when you stand before God; it’s where you stand with God," said Graham.
"That’s the whole reason that I’m coming to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ this weekend at the Great Auditorium. I want people to know how to have a saving relationship with Him so that when their time comes they will be ready to face eternity with their Savior," he said.
Like Graham, Cotton and Wilton spoke in terms of the possibility that this day could be our last.
"When we talk to people about hospice, we say, 'What would you do today if you thought it was your last day?' And then we say, 'Why don't you do it anyway?' " said Cotton.
"I prefer to take my stand with Martin Luther. When asked by a student what he would do, were he to learn the world was going to end the next day, the great Reformer and Bible scholar is said to have replied with a smile: 'Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree,' ” said Wilton.