In the twentieth century there was the interesting case of David Wilkerson’s 1973 false prophecy. The Rev. Wilkerson was truly one of the heroes and pioneers of the Charismatic Renewal. He began as a small-town 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 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 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 worldwide.
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 the happenings 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 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 – none of that happened. At the same time, he asserted, there would be severe earthquakes in the United States and worldwide food shortages. That also did not happen.
The most important and dramatic part of the vision pertained 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 would be recognized as the political head. The “true” Church of God, a new union of all authentic Spirit-filled Christians, would 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 preacher raised in the tradition that the Catholic Church was the “whore of Babylon” etc.? 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 remotely 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 1970’s did in fact continue to flourish and expand and to build in response to their growing needs.
That Catholic charismatics did not follow the deadly advice of The Vision was due in great part to the quick response of other, more mature leaders. David du Plessis, the elder statesman of Pentecostalism, who had seen firsthand the birth of the Catholic charismatic movement, quickly denounced the prophecy as not coming from God. He compared it with many a false prophecy he had 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. He 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 the prophecies he received. 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 Cor. 14:29.
It is important to note some other issues. It is clear that Wilkerson’s original ministry was blessed by God and has borne much fruit. His book The Sword and the Switchblade was one of the great books of the Pentecostal/charismatic revival, yet The Vision was false and demonic. This is a modern example of Peter’s “multiple inspirations.” Specifically, when Peter declared that Jesus was the messiah, (Matt 16:17) but later urged Jesus not to continue to Jerusalem and His crucifixion (Matt 16:23). Perhaps 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.
This book is not just about President Trump. It is about every empire in history that has tried to usurp and use the Church in its political agenda. It is about the Last Days bewitchfull silencing of the true prophetic voices and replacing them with those of the false prophets. The ones who have sold out their anointing for political influence, financial gain or simply to be noticed in the vast wilderness of this present world. But ministry especially in the prophetic is not for sale. God still guards His Word with jealousy.
The author, William De Arteaga, Ph.D. is no small-time scholar. His best-selling book “Quenching the Spirit” has crossed many denominational boundaries transcending into the Biblical Charismata and advancing the work of the Kingdom. His historical essay on Agnes Sanford speaks to the women ministering in Pentecost opposing the cross-gender agenda. The recent publication on The Public Prayer Station proposes a new open paradigm for Christian ministry in the midst of physical and spiritual pandemic. And the book on Graceful Aging completes his public theological address to all generations touched and transformed by the eternal Spirit of God.
In a sense, this book is long overdue as it covers a much-needed research starting with the early forming of the historic evangelical vote prior to the 2016 presidential elections. Each chapter was birthed on the pages of the largest Pentecostal discussion group on the internet, PentecostalTheology.com. Each page was shaped by the painful reality of cross-genderism, racial protests, political unrest and hostile secularism in post-Christian America. Which also makes it a very timely book that transcends our current political and historic reality and speaks against every future empire aggressively enchanting the Christian Church into a spiritual agenda for globalism and world order that opposes the already, but not yet coming Kingdom of God.