The false prophesy of David Wilkerson
In the Twentieth Century there was the very interesting case of David Wilkerson’s 1973 false prophecy. The Rev. Wilkerson (1931-2011) was truly one of the heroes and pioneers of the Charismatic Renewal. He began as a small town Pentecostal preacher (Assemblies of God) in the coal fields of Pennsylvania. Through a series of promptings from the Holy Spirit he went to New York and was led to minister to delinquent and gang teenagers in the slums of New York City. This eventually led to a marvelous and effective ministry in New York and other cities for the evangelization and rehabilitation of inner-city teenagers called “Teen Challenge.” The story of the beginnings of this ministry is told in his book, The Cross and the Switchblade. That book had a special anointing in its power to inspire people and was translated into many languages and sold more than 50,000,000 copies world wide.
But in April of 1973, when Wilkerson was already known worldwide for his teen ministry and first book, he received a series of visions. They were prophetic visions and dealt with the supposed coming events of the next decade (1973-1983), with special attention to events in the United States. It was published as The Vision, and became a best seller among Evangelicals and charismatics. Wilkerson first publicly proclaimed the vision in a conference of Lutheran charismatics in August of 1973. The tape of that session is an amazing document in the history of Christian false prophecy.
Although the book contains all the prophecies, one can best appreciate Wilkerson’s state of mind by listening to the tape. As he spoke at the Lutheran assembly he asserted time after time that his message was directly from God, and that it was the “clearest vision I’ve ever had.” He assured the audience that the Spirit behind the vision was the same that guided him to the teen ministry. Several times during his delivery he was practically overwhelmed by emotion and said, “Never have I felt such an anointing,” or “I predict in the Spirit!” and so on.
Wilkerson warned of five major calamities that were surely coming on the world by 1983. In economics, the “next few years” would be prosperous (he missed the recession of 1974-1975), followed by a deep depression brought about by financial collapse. The depression was to start in Germany and the Arab countries will suffer the most. Actually, none of that happened. At the same time there would be severe earthquakes in the United States and world wide food shortages. That also did not happen, but that was scary to those who heard the prophecy. On the moral front, the United States was to be invaded by a flood of pornography never before seen, and the courts will take an even more permissive stand on this issue. This turned out to be generally true, but one did not need to be a prophet to see the trend already apparent. There would also be a major wave of disobedience by children towards their parent (a constant, but no noticeable jump in this sin area).
The most important and dramatic part of the vision pertains to the churches. According to Wilkerson, there would arise a new Church, really the Church of the anti-Christ, made of a liberal Protestant and Roman Catholic amalgam, in which the Pope will be recognized as the political head. The “true” Church of God, a new union of all authentic Spirit-filled Christians, will of course oppose this Church and in turn suffer persecution.
Wilkerson especially warned Catholic charismatics to expect persecution from their own hierarchy. They would eventually be forced to choose between their Catholicism and the Spirit-filled life. As a practical measure he warned all Christian churches to put their financial houses in order so as to weather the coming hard times. Specifically, no new buildings or borrowing should be initiated in the immediate future. All through the delivery of this prophecy Wilkerson provided ample Biblical quotations to give it a sense of Biblical validation.
That The Vision was a false prophecy is now obvious. Was it merely a subconscious concoction of the beliefs, fears and prejudices of a Pentecostal preacher raised in the tradition that the Catholic Church was the “whore of Babylon?” Certain elements in the prophecy suggest that they may have had a deeper, demonic influence. The very shrillness and lack of humility in his assertions was itself a sign of that. The prophecy did not call Christians to prayer or repentance, nor did it console, edify, or exhort; it frightened and condemned. There was not a single suggestion that might have been useful, such as might have prepared Christians for the energy crisis of 1975 when Saudi Arabia stopped oil exports to our country to protest our support of Israel.
Further, the only practical suggestions were destructive. The separation of Spirit-filled Christians into “one true Church” would have resulted in a new Montanism with results perhaps as destructive to the Church as the old Montanism. Even the minor point of financial conservatism most probably had a demonic source, for many churches in the 1970s did in fact continue to flourish and to build in response to their growing needs. In my own city, Atlanta, several large charismatic churches arose, borrowed some money for construction, grew tremendously and repaid their debts.
That Catholic Charismatics did not follow the deadly advice of The Vision was due in great part to the intelligent and quick response of other, more mature leaders. David du Plessis, the elder statesman of Pentecostalism, and who had seen first-hand the birth of the Catholic charismatic movement, quickly denounced the prophecy as not coming from the Lord. He compared it with many a false prophecy he heard as a young man which claimed the coming world rule of Stalin and the Papacy. Ralph Martin, one of the best-known and respected Catholic charismatics quickly spread the warning of “false prophecy” among fellow Catholics. Indeed, as time has shown, Catholic charismatics never suffered persecution from their bishops, and although the movement slowed down in the U.S after the 1980s, there are many Catholic Charismatic fellowships in the United States that are doing fine. Further, in Africa and South America the Catholic Charismatic movement has been instrumental in bringing millions of nominal Catholics to become true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Wilkerson’s prophecy goes to the core of the discernment problem. His false prophecy no way negated his splendid early and later ministries. Wilkerson did nothing wrong in reporting his prophecy. As a matter of fact, according to traditional Catholic theology, he would have sinned from cowardice had he not spoken. Perhaps he should have sought verification from older, mature Christians. The famous Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, in a brilliant work, Inquiries, made clear that, the prophet is in a poor position to discern his own revelation. This is because if it is of demonic origins or contamination it will play upon the fears, prejudices, and belief structure of his own subconscious mind and those in his immediate faith community. It is the task of the Church to judge prophecy, not the prophet. This again is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians. 14:29.
It is clear that Wilkerson’s original ministry was blessed by God and bore much good fruit, yet The Vision was demonic. This is a modern example of Peter’s “multiple inspirations.” Specifically, when Peter declared that Jesus was the messiah, (Matthew 16:17) but later urged Jesus not to continue to Jerusalem and His crucifixion (Matthew 16:23). It is also important to realize that while Wilkerson delivered his address to the Lutheran conference, he was probably functioning as a partial medium for an evil spirit. Yet in no sense did he commit the sin of mediumship. Rather it is in the nature of the mature spiritual life to be an instrument of either the Holy Spirit or other spirits. Advanced spiritual life is by nature risky – but not as fatal as a mediocre spiritual life, for our Lord makes it clear that he abhors those who are neither “hot or cold” (Rev. 3:15). The major failure with Wilkerson and his vision was that he did not seek an elder or mature spiritual director with whom to discuss his visions before he went to the public with them.
 (Old Tappen: Spire Books, 1963.
 David Wilkerson, The Vision (New York: Pyramid, 1974).
 David Wilkerson, “The Coming Persecution,” Tape #DW-8, Springs of Living Water tape library. In author’s possession.
 “Persecution for Charismatic Catholics?” New Covenant, (Jan. 1974) 13.
 Karl Rhaner, “Visions and Prophesies,” in Inquiries (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964).
 I am of the opinion, which the French Christian philosopher, Blaise Pascal, first put forth, that the pineal gland is the brain’s portal to communication with the spiritual world, either the Holy Spirit of unholy spirits. Thus the demonic can use the same portal and brain circuitry to suggest his diabolical messages as the Holy Spirit can give us inspiration.