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This Week in AG History -- Dec. 27, 1970

David Wilkerson's passionate message about reaching young people for Christ, which was presented to the World Pentecostal Conference more than 50 years ago, still holds true for today.
It was 1970 and one of the most significant cultural transformations in American history was underway. The news reported on widespread youthful rebellion, and sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll seemed to be the currency of the era. In midst of this cultural chaos, David Wilkerson delivered a prophetic message at the World Pentecostal Conference, predicting that a “Jesus Revolution” would sweep the nation and pleading for Christians to show patience and love to the younger generation.

David Wilkerson (1931-2011) is probably best remembered for his autobiographical book, The Cross and the Switchblade, published in 1963, which later became a best-selling movie of the same name in 1970.

Wilkerson started in ministry pastoring Assemblies of God congregations in rural Pennsylvania, but in 1958 he moved to New York City to work on the street among teenage gang members and socially marginalized people. His ministry with gangs was featured in Life Magazine, and one of his converts from that period is AG evangelist Nicky Cruz, who had been a leader of a New York City gang, the Mau Maus.

In 1959, Wilkerson founded Teen Age Evangelism which later became Teen Challenge, and which now has expanded to become Global Teen Challenge. Wilkerson wrote books and tracts on popular topics including pop culture, witchcraft, suicide, drugs, alcohol, and end-time prophecy. Two of his best sellers are The Vision and Racing Toward Judgment.

Wilkerson’s captivating message at the World Pentecostal Conference is reproduced below:

If We Lose This Generation …

There has never been a generation as deeply in trouble as ours. It is corrupted by drugs, crazed by sex, plagued by rebellion and violence. But we will not lose this generation because of any of these things!

The rebels and the radicals will never capture this generation. Black and white rebels will curse God, spit on the flag, defy all authority, ridicule righteousness, stockpile weapons, kill and destroy.

But they will never capture the masses of youth.

Young people now are seeing through the revolution movements. Their leaders are consuming one another with hatred. Their leaders are writing books and making TV appearances and becoming rich capitalists! Less than two percent of our youth are involved with rebels. No, we will not lose this generation to the revolutionaries.

We will not lose this generation to pornography or sex. Certainly the floodgates of smut and pornography are open. Movies are dirty. Books are filthy. The country is baptized in nudity and permissive sex.

But it is backfiring! The pendulum is beginning to swing back to old-fashioned virtues. Dirty
movies are going broke. Kids prefer to get involved in something that is going to count, to discuss issues, to get back to nature and truth. We will not lose this generation to sex and smut.

We will not lose this generation to drugs. Drug addiction is growing among suburban youth and younger children. But in the cities — in Haight Ashbury, in Greenwich Village, where hippies set the trends — drug use is going out of style. Marijuana is getting boring. LSD has dropped in price and is going out. Heroin addicts are getting desperate and crying out for deliverance. Teenagers are organizing "righteousness revolutions" and cleaning up their schools.

I am sick and tired of all the cries of hopelessness and despair. All kids are not potheads. Not all college kids are acid freaks. They are not all “coming apart.”

No, we will not lose this generation in the ghetto, or in the dirty theaters, or on campus.

If we lose this generation, it will be lost in the hearts of God’s people! In the pulpits! By saints and servants of God who were blind and deaf to the needs and cries of this generation. That is where we will lose this generation!

What we need to reach this generation is a new concept of patience and pity.

This generation can be doomed and damned by our unforgiving, impatient spirit locked in the hearts of parents, ministers, and Christian workers. I believe the most dangerous backlash in the country today is in God’s house, in sanctified hearts.

Some young people today burn and loot. They take over college campuses with loaded shotguns. They defy the government. They riot. They curse parents. They speak evil of dignitaries. They spit on the flag. They boast about drugs and sex. They dress wild.

And it makes our blood boil. Our patriotic spirit is offended. Our sense of decency is wounded. Fear and anger overwhelm us. And all too often we wind up with our hands around the throats of young people!

With righteous indignation we demand justice; we fight back with demands for conformity. Suddenly we are no longer capable of Holy Ghost love. Pentecostal fire is replaced by the fire of indignation. Our love turns to bitterness. We thunder hellfire from our pulpits; our witnessing becomes warning.

And hope turns to despair.

How much the situation is like a parable Jesus told:

“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion and loosed him, and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:23-27).

That story hits at the very heart of the problem in the world today: we have forgotten how patient our God really is!

Have we forgotten how much God has forgiven us? Some of us were reprobates and drunkards. We were guilty before God of every sin imaginable: gossip, hate, adultery, covetousness, stealing, dishonesty, gambling, addiction to cigarettes!

We can all identify with this bankrupt man — about to lose his family, home, everything. Only a miracle of pity could save him.

So the poor man cried out: “Lord, have patience with me. Give me more time. I’m in a crisis right now. I’ll pay you, but now I need your understanding, pity, and patience.”

Even a child can understand the application. We have been saved by the God of patience. “We then that are strong enough ought to bear the infirmities of the weak … For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:1,4).

But having received God’s pity and patience, we refuse to demonstrate it to this generation. How much we are like the servant. The story continues:

“But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him a hundred pence, and he laid his hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me what the owest. And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt” (Matthew 18:28-30).

What a wretched man!

I say to myself, “How could he do such a thing? He was forgiven so much — and he is so unforgiving! Look at him with his hands on the threat of a poor, bankrupt person — demanding payment right now!”

But then I hang my head in shame. Because I am that man.

I am that man — demanding that all my converts walk like angels while I still struggle with deep battles.

I am that man — demanding that young people conform to my dress standards, demanding they pay their debt to society.

I am that man — more concerned about their hair and beards, about their getting a job, about their politics. And I demand they pay up now!

How can we honestly evangelize rebels if we call them Communists and hopeless criminals?

How can we reach drug addicts if we have no pity or patience? If we say, “They brought it on themselves”?

How can we honestly reach millions of runaways, hippies, devil worshipers — if we see nothing but their clothes, their long hair, their big talk — and spend all our time preaching against them?

Could it be that we have become blind to what young people are trying to tell us? Could it be that 400,000 kids at Woodstock Music Festival were sitting in the mud as if to say, “We are all bankrupt; we have nothing left. We are in crises; we are down and out. Please have patience.”

Could it be that thousands of drug-crazed young people are crying out to us: “We are empty, bankrupt. We’ve lost our resources. We’ve wasted our substance. We have nothing to offer. Diagnose us. Threaten us. Warn us. Choke us. But it won’t do any good! We have nothing left. Please just be patient. Try to pity, to understand.”

Could it be that thousands of unwashed hippies and runaways are saying: “We couldn’t meet the schedule. We’ve given up. We are dirty, low, helpless. Have pity! We don’t know how to pay up! We are lost. Please be patient!”

God help this generation if His people cannot soon demonstrate pity and patience to them! Blacks will hate whites. Children will hate parents. The entire generation will turn against the church. And worst of all, we will lose our Christian youth, who want honesty. They will say, “If this is love — if this is all there is to it — we don’t want it!”

Some of us have been so busy preaching John 3:16 that we had forgotten Matthew 18:33. John 3:16 tells of God’s patience and forgiveness to man. Matthew 18:33 tells of our patience and pity to our generation.

What did the Lord say to the unforgiving servant? "O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt because thou desiredst [besought] me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?" (Matthew 18:32, 33).

This is today's most relevant message! It shakes me to the deep of my soul. God is saying, "I have forgiven you so much; I've had such compassion on you. Shouldn't you be patient with them? Have you no pity?"

Hear Christ's conclusion to the story: "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (Matthew 18:35).

I wanted to lecture a dirty hippie boy about his filthiness. But he told me, "I'm homeless." Or how about the heroin addict who started on drugs when he was 6? We must be patient!

What is needed to reach this generation is a new concept of what young people are really seeking.

Young people are weary of sex, tired of drugs, disillusioned with rebels, sick of organized religion, suspicious of philosophy. They are seeking something.

They are the same kind of seekers referred to in John 12:20, 21: "And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: the same came therefore to Philip … and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus."

Ministers of God, listen ... please understand. Young people are longing to see Jesus. Why are some of us reaching thousands of young people? Because we are giving them nothing but Jesus!

Young people are not interested in our fancy church buildings. They would rather see the money go to missions. They are not concerned about the intricate denominational setup. They can see right through the pompous church leaders who preach nothing but social action.

They are sick of preachers who pretend to be politicians. They are sick of ritual and ceremony.

They want to hear about Jesus. Is He real? Does He still answer prayer? Can He break my habits? Can He give me peace?

They're telling us: “We've heard a lot of talk about Him, but now we want to see Him, to talk to Him, to get personally involved!”

There is a Jesus Revolution now on — a veritable army of Jesus people!

Hippies, runaways, addicts are turning to Christ by the multitudes. And they all have a code message: "I belong to the Jesus people."

Young people have seen all the confusion, all the complications of a complex age. They are turning to a single, simple solution — Jesus!

God forgive us for being removed from the simplicity of the gospel. Let us say with Paul: "I am determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified."

Drugs have opened the minds of young people to deep and mystical experiences. This generation will never again be satisfied with shallow religious experiences. Thousands of them do go into trances through meditation. They talk about deep religious experiences with LSD. Some have gone into witchcraft, devil worship. But they are not satisfied.

There are now many thousands of hungry, seeking teenagers and students wanting a deeper religious experience. They want reality. That experience — that reality — is the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Jesus revolution is sponsored by the Holy Ghost! When He comes, the revolution begins. Addicts kick the habit and start preaching Jesus. Blacks and whites join hands and praise God. Rebels lay down their weapons and preach peace. Children are reunited with their parents. Prodigal sons return home. Prostitutes become ladies and good mothers. Gang leaders prophesy.

But it is going to take some patience and pity and forgiveness by God’s people to reach this generation of youth. We 're going to have to practice what we have been preaching.

Read David Wilkerson’s sermon, “If We Lose This Generation…,” on pages 6-8 of the Dec. 27, 1970, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Pentecost—the Power for Missions,” by A.M. Cakau

• “Christ or Crisis,” by Paul Pipkin

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Glenn W. Gohr

Glenn W. Gohr is the reference archivist at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, Missouri.