Why we Need to Recover the Legacy of David Wilkerson

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David Wilkerson is a source of inspiration to many Christians. His book The Cross and the Switchblade spread his influence beyond his own pentecostal circles and inspired multitudes of Christians from various denominations. However, whilst Wilkerson is a hero of the faith to many Christians, he is first and foremost, a pentecostal champion of the faith. Wilkerson is to Pentecostals what Calvin is to Presbyterians, Thomas Chalmers is to the Free Church and Spurgeon is to Baptists. In other words, he is an example of what it is to live out his Biblical convictions.

I’m personally indebted to the life and ministry of David Wilkerson in a number of ways. As a teenager, in a Roman Catholic School, I heard the story of the Cross and the Switchblade and it made a lasting impression upon my mind. Growing up in a socially deprived housing scheme in the outskirts of Glasgow, Wilkerson’s story resonated with me. Here was a religion I could understand.

Later, after finding Christ in the midst of addiction, poverty and social chaos, I came into contact with the ministry of Teen Challenge. It was here I discovered that Wilkerson’s ministry had gone global. It was here I discovered that I wasn’t the only person living life on the margins of society who had discovered the power of the risen Christ.

Later again I discovered Wilkerson the pastor, teacher and prophet. As I sought to search out a church, understand the Bible, and weigh up the conflicting claims of different church groups, Wilkerson’s sermons brought light. He helped me navigate the prosperity gospel, the excesses associated with the Toronto Blessing, and he nurtured the desire for deep personal holiness.

Whilst I wouldn’t endorse everything that Wilkerson wrote or said, I am convinced that Wilkerson’s voice needs to be heard in the evangelical church today. The general evangelical movement would be well served by turning to his teachings. Yet more importantly, I believe Pentecostals need to rediscover their own prophet, pastor and preacher. Many people today have been inspired by Wilkerson, but very few have been discipled by him. Many have caught his heart for the broken, but they haven’t grasped his solution. Many have tried to follow his ministry, but they haven’t grasped his message.

Here are a few essential areas where a rediscovery of David Wilkerson’s Legacy could transform our churches and ministries.

Wilkerson shows us the importance of:

  1. Taking the gospel to the streets

Street ministry is one of the first areas of ministry I got involved in. At the turn of the millennium, in Scotland, street ministry wasn’t a massive thing. Most Christians I encountered had a negative view of street ministry. However, since then, many youth work agencies, and funders have begun to prioritise street work. The popularity of street ministry has also increased due to the increase of Street Pastors.

David Wilkerson was, in many ways, a pioneer of street ministry. However, street ministry today often lacks the essential ingredient that made Wilkerson’s ministry so high impact. A lot of street ministry does not take the gospel to the streets. Wilkerson talks about this importance of the gospel in one of his books.

I had a message for street fighters, gang leaders, kids who stabbed each other with knives and jabbed themselves with needles – and a lot of them were beginning to listen. Wherever I could – in church, on a street corner, in a wretched abandoned basement that served as a clubhouse, — I preached the message of God’s love, Christ’s atoning death, and the Holy Spirit’s power to work wonders in this world.[1]

It’s crystal clear. Wilkerson was not just out to help people socially, he was out to transform people spiritually. And that transformation came through a message. Today, a lot of street ministry either makes no attempt to make evangelism an aim, or it fudges the message. Wilkerson was very clear about his message. Yes, he preached God’s love, but that love looked like something – the cross. Wilkerson knew it was the message of the cross that would transform lives.

Further, he understood that the only thing that could make his message effective was the power of the Holy Spirit. This is Christianity 101 yet it is virtually missing today.

Wilkerson’s message was so simple, yet so powerful – a God who loves you, a God who has given his son to die for you that you may be saved and set free. And a God who will impart love, hope, healing and holiness, deep into your soul by the power of His Spirit.

This is desperately needed today.

  1. Confronting the Church with its compromise

The second area Wilkerson is needed is the area of correction and challenge. It seems today that we live in a culture of two extremes. We are either critics or compromisers. We either take the path of the online heresy hunter, burn you-at-the-stake-blogger, or we say nothing. We live Christian lives that are about as effective as Ned Flanders. We smile. We be nice. We stay positive about everything.

Wilkerson loved the church too much to take that approach. He understood that the scriptures are given for correction as well as comfort (2 Tim 3:16)

Today, in society, and church, there is a tendency to avoid confrontation. People are more concerned with being peace-keepers, than peace makers. Current wisdom says that correction is judgemental and silence is loving. That’s not biblical wisdom though, hear the heart of God through Wilkerson’s statement to the Assemblies of God.

I am not coming to you as a pastor but with a prophetic word. God so shook me recently with this message that I should bring it somewhere, sometime in Springfield. This morning the Lord, by His Spirit, spoke to my heart that this is the time. He has called me to be one of His watchmen, and I have wept over this and prayed that He will help me deliver the message in a spirit of love. This is not a chastisement but a warning for the Assemblies of God…. I pray that God will keep the Assemblies of God in its original purposes. In New York City, He has proved that the people come to hear a straight gospel, and thousands will come where the Word of God is being preached without compromise and yet with grace. May the young men who are discouraged in the Movement not try for a shortcut but be broken and on their faces before the Lord. May we get our eyes off growth and onto a new revelation of who Jesus is[2]

Wilkerson is speaking to the AoG in this sermon. And I’m in no way intending to single the AoG out. I think the principle is this, are we willing to speak truth, and have truth spoken to us, even if it is not comfortable? Do we value the wounds of a friend?

  1. The Centrality of Christ

Coming from the pentecostal movement, Wilkerson identified a tendency amongst some churches to emphasise the Spirit and neglect the Son. His sermon, A Christless Pentecost, is a powerful corrective to contemporary revival fads that blow through the church every few years.

When the Holy Spirit becomes the center of our attention, the church gets out of focus! The Holy Spirit descended upon Christ as He came out of baptismal waters, and the Father said of Him: “This is My beloved Son – In whom I am well pleased…” The Spirit descended bodily like a dove, but the focus was on the Lamb of God – who taketh away the sins of the world. Not the dove, but the Lamb![3]

  1. Warning against unhealthy ministry ambition

21st century ministry has a number of demands. Churches are looking for church planters, church revitalisers and pioneers. Wilkerson highlights the danger of selfish ambition in the ministry.

It is possible, through unholy ambition, to be transformed from a man of God, who has been seeking God and getting a word from heaven, to an unholy ambition and a tool of Satan. Let every pastor heed this warning: The moment you begin to consider the “competition,” seeds of accommodation will be planted in your heart. Suddenly, Satan will put in your path a wolf in sheep’s clothing—a man who will try to seduce you into ungodly ambition and achieving church growth at any cost. Yet the truth is, it could cost you your soul . . .You can get your big church and be one of the big boys, but it’s going to cost you your soul if you preach with a focus only on earthly things, rather than on the things of God.”[4].

  1. The need for discernment to protect us from deception

The very concepts of discernment and deception are foreign currency in the modern evangelical church. This itself is evidence that we are seeing an epidemic of deception and a famine of discernment. Wilkerson was a man who understood the times. He understood that not everything that had the name of ‘Jesus’ attached to it was actually the real deal.

I tremble when I read in the Scriptures that in the last days Satan is going to come right into the church posing as an angel of light. He’s going to take ministers who, at one time, had the touch of God, and he’s going to transform them into angels of light to become his tool of deception. That’s frightening. It causes me to fall on my face before God for such false, deceitful workers transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. No marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore, it’s no great thing if ministers also are transformed as the ministers of righteousness whose end shall be according to their works.[5]

  1. The for need anguish more than enthusiasm

One of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever listened to is David Wilkerson’s Call to Anguish. At a time when hype has eclipsed holiness, and marketing masquerades as mission, we need the deep groaning of God to be birthed in our souls.

Folks there’s a difference between concern and anguish. Cause you see you can tie yourself to a cause, you can get excited about it, or some project you can talk it up. You’ll go public with it, you can advertise it, you can support it, organize it, put a lot of effort into it. Let me tell you something I’ve learned over all my years 50 years of preaching, if it is not born in anguish, if it has not been born by the Holy Spirit, where what you saw and heard of the ruin that drove you to your knees took you down into a baptism of anguish where you began to pray and seek God. . . . You see a true prayer life begins at the place of anguish, a place where lifetime decisions are made. If you set your heart to pray God is going to come and start sharing his heart with you. He’s going to open up his heart. And I’ll tell you there’s pain in his heart. What he sees … and so few to hear. He’s going to show you the condition of his church. He’s going to show you the condition of your own heart, and he‘s going to ask you a question, “What is it to you?” And that anguished servant has to make a decision. And everyone hearing me now you’re going to have to make this decision. . . . You see you either walk away and go back to your passivity, you say I’m just going to be an ordinary Christian, and there’s no such thing.[6]

There is so much more that could be said and applied regarding the legacy of David Wilkerson and the need for his voice to be heard today. If you want to tap into this legacy, you may want to check out the following links.

http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=category&cid=12

http://www.worldchallenge.org/

May God do a fresh work in our individual lives, family homes, and local churches, in this day for his glory, the good of the church and salvation of the lost.

Sources

[1] Twelve Angels from Hell, David Wilkerson, p14

[2] The Dangers of the Gospel of Accommodation: A sermon given by David Wilkerson at an Assemblies of God headquarters chapel service. By David Wilkerson

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] A Call to Anguish (by David Wilkerson, 9/15/2002)