Though much more could be said, in the previous two posts I have tried to lay out some basic defining points for true Biblical prophecy – some from the linguistic analysis of the terms translated as ‘prophet’ and some from Scripture passages describing prophecy, warning about false prophets, etc. As I have laid them out;
*The prophet must be given a clear vision of God’s will for a time/situation,
* The subject matter of the vision must be ‘weighty’ (non-trivial) enough to constitute a ‘burden’,
*The prophetic message must create sufficient internal pressure that it must ‘flow forth’.
*Prophecy is a public rather than a private enterprise.
*Prophecy is for the sake of the already believing community rather than a more evangelistic endeavor.
*The prophetic message must be consistent with what God has already said.
*The prophet’s conduct (though no prophet is perfect) must be definable as ‘good fruit’.
*Any predictions made by the prophet must prove to be accurate.
All this said, distinguishing a ‘true’ prophet can still be difficult. And our own desires often get in the way. Consider the ministry of the prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah had a prophetic competitor named Hannaniah. The two preached exactly opposite messages. Jeremiah prophesied the coming Babylonian captivity. Hannaniah prophesied that no such captivity would occur. The two prophets had different takes on the reliability of Egypt. The people and the king(s) had to choose between the two competing prophetic messages. It is easy, in retrospect, to identify Jeremiah as the true prophet. The Babylonian Captivity happened and lasted precisely as long as Jeremiah foretold. I suspect at the time it seemed less clear. Even after the first two waves of captives were taken away, as long as Jerusalem stood, the captives in Babylon were not minded to hear the prophetic word of their fellow captive, Ezekiel. Of course, they might have heard Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Hannaniah and simply asked which agreed with the accepted earlier prophetic word of Isaiah. But, as I say, our desires get in the way – cloud our vision. Never think that we are immune to such effects.
So, rather than expand the criteria for recognizing a true prophet I will rehearse a story already known to one degree or another by most and let you draw your own conclusions.
In 1958 a young Pennsylvania preacher by name of David Wilkerson became acquainted with the murder trial of seven young Hispanic New York gang members. Wilkerson felt certain that God wanted him to do something to ‘help those boys.’ He got some time off from his congregation and rushed to New York to attend the ongoing trial. As a recess was called, Wilkerson tried to go to the front of the courtroom to ask the judge for permission to visit the defendants. Wilkerson was unaware of death threats against the Judge or appropriate extra security measures! The next days New York Daily News featured a great photo of Wilkerson being hauled off to jail. He never got to meet or help those seven individual young men – he also never resumed pastoring the PA congregation. Rather, he took to preaching to other gang members on the streets of New York. He raised money and founded a ‘house’ where gang members could come to get off drugs, get off the streets in cold weather, get a meal, receive counseling, etc. The rules were strict. Troubled youth worked if they wanted to eat. Drug rehab was strictly cold turkey. The first step in resolving legal conflicts was to go to the police and make a full confession. No services were received without the necessity to hear religious teachings.
To the surprise of many, Wilkerson had remarkable success. The ‘house’ became ‘Teen Challenge’ and sprouted chapters all over the world. Out of this ministry came the book and the movie – The Cross and the Switchblade – and the lifelong ministry of evangelist Nicky Cruz (played in the movie by Erik Estrada). Wilkerson gained international fame – and a fair chunk of personal wealth in the form of royalties from the movie and over forty books he would author moving forward. It needs to be said right here than Wilkerson never confused ministry money with personal money and is one of those rare ‘big timers’ among ministers for whom there was never a hint of scandal financial, sexual, or otherwise. Wilkerson came to like fancy cars, expensive shoes and very nice homes but they were all purchased with his personal wealth – not ministry funds – and he still gave away as much of his personal money as he kept.
As Teen Challenge became a HUGE international organization, Wilkerson discovered that he didn’t like administering huge international organizations. He just wanted to preach! So he turned Teen Challenge over to one of his associates and took off for California in 1970. The ministry he envisioned on the west coast did not materialize as Wilkerson developed, of all things, a terrible fear of flying. He was still in demand all over the country (and internationally) as a speaker. In 1971 he moved to Dallas, Texas from where it was easier to operate his Bible Belt travelling schedule in a bus! He also developed in Texas what he meant to do in California – the Twin Oaks Ranch for Boys. This ministry also found great success until Wilkerson found he was spending more time with architects and accountants than with the Lord. He sold the ranch to YWAM for a fraction of its worth, built a new home and started World Challenge – mostly writing books. Later, Wilkerson would withdraw his own support from five of his own books saying he head foolishly written them to raise money rather than as the result of a mandate from God.
Over the first three years of World Challenge, Wilkerson shifted from ‘preaching’ to ‘prophecy’ – feeling that he had been given a prophetic burden. This is where the rubber hits the road for this blog post. In 1973 his prophetic burden ‘flowed forth’ in a book called – The Vision. (Talk about hitting the points!) He predicted that at an unspecified date in the ‘near future’ America would enter a terrible tribulation. Predictions included,
*Roller coaster pricing for precious metals that would wipe out fortunes.
*Expansive union busting by the government.
*Bankruptcy for almost every large American corporation.
*The death of American agriculture.
*The exhausting of American food reserves.
* Continent wide famine in Africa.
*An explosion of pornography.
*The worst earthquake in American history.
*The legalization of Marijuana.
*Roving bands of homosexuals assaulting citizens publicly on the streets.
In addition to the predictions, Wilkerson denounced ‘contemporary Christian Music and musicians as back-sliders singing ‘rock & roll born in the womb of the devil’ and almost all televangelists as ‘Prosperity Gospel Hucksters’. He named several prominent televangelists by name. He had almost as unkind words for most of the non-televised church services in America. He called TVs in general the ‘Babylonian Idiot Box’ and an ‘idol’.
Former fans and supporting congregations could hardly abandon Wilkerson fast enough. World Challenge – his prophetic ministry – became his first ministry endeavor not to result in explosive success. He conducted ‘Call to Repentance’ seminars which drew a few hundred at a time – as opposed to the thousands and tens of thousands of days gone by for Wilkerson. His numerical few but hard-core supporters christened Wilkerson ‘America’s Jeremiah’.
But Wilkerson lost even many of those devoted followers with his 1985 release of the book, Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth. In this prophetic work, Wilkerson identified America as the Babylon of the book of Revelation and forecasted that God was forging a hammer in Moscow for our destruction. His prediction was fairly specific. Russia would launch a first strike over the North Pole. Our missiles, perhaps due to the hand of God, would never leave their silos. We would be wiped out in a single hour. Again, Wilkerson did not name a date other than ‘the near future’. In discussions outside the printed book he flirted with 1996 as, he considered, the close of sabbath week of millennia.
Shortly, after almost everyone abandoned the World Challenge ministry, Wilkerson received the call from God to return to New York, This post is already getting a little long and I have hit the portion of Wilkerson’s career appropriate to the question at hand. So, I will leave to you to research the Times Square Church ministry if you are interested. Wilkerson died in an automobile accident in 2011. His final blog post, titled – When All Means Fail – relays a message profitable to us all.
I have done my best to apply what I see as the Biblical criteria for prophecy to Wilkerson’s ministry. I will not, at this time, share my conclusions – tentative as they are. I would be happy to discuss points any of you may raise. But for the moment I simply ask you – David Wilkerson, prophet or not?
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church