According to Wikipedia: “David Ray Wilkerson (May 19, 1931 – April 27, 2011) was an American Christian evangelist, best known for his book “The Cross and the Switchblade”. He was the founder of the addiction recovery program Teen Challenge, and founding pastor of the non-denominational Times Square Church in New York”. While I have no special fixation on David Wilkerson and there has been things about his style and message I might have taken exception to in the past, he is someone I have been aware off ever since I read “his book”, aged 15, which was partly instrumental in my becoming a Christian, drawn as I was by the idea that if the Christian message could transform the lives of New York gang members and no-hopers, then it could for me also. Later I was attracted by the work of Teen Challenge in changing lives affected by addictions, a ministry he helped to found. I have felt that here was a man that in the main said what needed saying, without compromise, unafraid if it might make him unpopular in the process.
I was drawn again recently to David Wilkerson having listened to his sermon, preached in 1973, titled “The End Times Vision”, in which he reflects on events that will shortly come to pass, in particular in his own country, the USA. While I would not want to discount dreams and visions, for after all the scriptures teach us “your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” Joel 2:28, and neither would I ignore the existence of true prophets of God in our present times, but when I listen to such sermons preached my natural skepticism comes into play and I find myself weighing words like those of Wilkerson. While it is possible to argue some of what he said was obvious and general or even not yet fulfilled, much of it has been and, in my view, in a remarkable way. For example, the way he portrays pressure being brought to bear on the part of the church, and especially its leaders, that seeks to stand for biblical truth, the emergence of a new type of ecumenical movement, often united by social justice concerns, that places significant store on accommodating, appeasing and attracting those who may not want follow the sort of tough Bible based teaching that Wilkerson regards as essential, and changes in the culture such as the increasing acceptance of homosexuality and immorality, this is some of what particularly resonates (there is a lot more).
This got me thinking about the need and place for the prophet today. One of the relevant texts is “and he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” Ephesians 4:11,12. My own church upbringing was with the Plymouth Brethren. PB’s tended not to put much store by titles like Reverend and will have regarded some with such titles as apostate anyway. It did tend, however, to recognize the need for and presence in their midst of evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but not of apostles and prophets. Without going into the theological rationale, I have come to the view there are those that can truly be placed in each of the five categories and those that do so in a God honouring way need to be affirmed, with or without any label. But it is the place of and need for prophets today I would like to turn, an example of which is seen in the late David Wilkerson.
The type of definition of “prophet” that works for me is along the lines: “a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God along with the idea it is someone who predicted what will happen in the future”. The Bible is full of examples of people that fitted this description but as a note of caution there were many false prophets also. Recently, I found myself reading the prophetical books of the Old Testament. One of the reasons for this was I have been (and still am) reflecting on the many social justice issues facing the world today and the continuing move toward unrighteousness and I am keen to know what it is God thinks about these things and what he might be intending. It seems to me there are a number of parallels. As I read again the prophets, it became apparent that, while they did predict the future, their role was to warn and encourage, and this is something we need today. It also occurs that being a prophet was an unenviable job as most were vilified and a few were killed for their efforts. They were imperfect and often prickly in character, yet they were also God’s instrument.
I for one owe a great debt to David Wilkerson and have found his preaching disturbingly challenging. While, sadly, just as in Old Testament days, many ignore and ridicule what he said, what he did say was important when he was speaking something concerning God’s will and purposes for the world, and especially when it involved the church, which in many ways has gone way off track and needs bringing back back on track. My prayer is that God will raise up more prophets now, likely quite different in character and temperament and not the obvious choices either, for such are the days we live in that an authentic prophetic voice is greatly needed.