Chapter 2 - God Has Chosen The Weak
Series: Our Fathers Saw His Mighty Works
On the north shore of Medicine Lake in Plymouth, Minnesota, stands a site that is an undeniable testimony to God’s mighty working in the post World War II years. It’s a site past which hundreds of people walk, jog, and bike on any pleasant day. It’s a site which numerous Christian people pass daily, unaware, as one historian put it, “that the ground on which they tread has … been hallowed by the footsteps of the Almighty.”1 If the inanimate could talk, then surely the walls of the old stone buildings on this site would cry out in praise to God for His mighty works that they saw in the middle of the 20th Century.
What was it that happened here that prompted the chief Christian revival historian of the 20th Century, Dr. J. Edwin Orr, to call it part of a “Mid-Century Awakening” in his 1953 book, Good News in Bad Times: Signs of Revival 2? Why was it that this place became a “revival center” and “precious ground” for thousands of people?
It was here that hundreds, and then thousands, of people gathered each summer, beginning in 1939, for the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement (LEM) Deeper Life Conference. The property, called Mission Farms, was owned and operated by the Union City Mission as a Bible conference center.3 And when in 1963 the Mission decided to entirely convert it from that use into a center for transient men, the LEM director reflected, “Many people think of the grounds as a revival center, for it was there that they had a personal encounter with the Lord.”4 And again, “Mission Farms has become precious ground to many people, for here they have experienced salvation and revival.”5
This Deeper Life Conference at Mission Farms was in many ways the flagship of the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement. On paper, the LEM defined itself as “a free, spontaneous Movement within Lutheranism” which “has as its purpose by God’s grace to revive and deepen the spiritual life and fellowship of believers, to save the lost, and to encourage the use of spiritual gifts for the extension of Christ’s kingdom.”6 But those were much more than just words on a page because the LEM’s leaders saw them visibly acted out and multiplied many times over at Deeper Life and scores of other conferences around the country each year. They saw the LEM as part of a national awakening and revival in the decade post World War II,7 and for good reason. There was no other way to explain the tremendous changes they were witnessing in innumerable people’s hearts and lives than that it was the Holy Spirit of God mightily at work.
How did such a wide-reaching and influential Movement come into existence? Was it the brainchild of a well-schooled theologian or of a dynamically eloquent preacher? No, rather, it was the God-given idea of one who ran from the Lord until he was past 30, who so feared public speaking that he had to hang onto a tent pole as he stammered out his first testimony, who had no specialized theological training, and who never had a formal letter of call from any church body. His story and the story of the birth of the LEM are certainly evidence of how “ . . . God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty . . . that no flesh should glory in His presence
. . . that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.’” (I Corinthians 1:27-31 NKJV)
In February of 1881 in Centerville, South Dakota, Enoch L. Scotvold was born into a large family already having ten children.8 It certainly was no fault of his pious parents that Enoch rejected God even as a child. There was no doubt in his mind that both his father and mother were godly Christians. As a little boy, he sat on his mother’s knee and listened to her pray and weep to God for her family. The home was well-disciplined, and regular Sunday School and church attendance only reinforced what had been taught at home.
But all the godly teaching and discipline did not bring young Enoch to a place of submission to God. In his own words, “I was so wild, you might say, and so careless. I knew that I was lost, and I was scared every time I thought about death. I hoped in my heart that God would give me time to get converted before I died. But, because I was so wild, I always wanted to get out with my pals and have a good time.”
It was more than just indifference with which Enoch treated God. It was also purposeful avoidance. When Enoch was about ten, he and some of his siblings and a cousin were playing in the upstairs of the barn one afternoon. Part of their play included pointing and “shooting” at each other an unloaded gun that they had found there. But when Enoch jestingly aimed it at his cousin and pulled the trigger, he discovered that it had been loaded all along. His cousin fell to the floor with blood streaming from her head and she cried, “Oh, my soul! My soul!” It was not just an exclamation of pain. Immediately, when she thought she might be dying, she became concerned about where her soul would spend eternity. Help was called and Enoch’s sisters pleaded with God that, if He would spare their cousin’s life, they would “turn to Him in real earnest, and live for Him.” It wasn’t that they hated God, but until that point they had been apathetic towards Him. When their cousin lived, the sisters kept their promise. Instead of playing all the time, they began praying together. During recess at school, they began reading their Bibles, singing, and praying. Their parents actively encouraged them in this direction. Soon other prayer meetings were started in the community as a result. Ultimately, a revival spread through the entire neighborhood until all but two families were saved. But Enoch successfully avoided God’s call to repentance and salvation even during this community revival which his action had sparked.
He went through confirmation classes as a custom which was expected of him and by which he hoped to avoid any further formal Christian instruction and memorization. So he took the vows on Confirmation Day, knowing he didn’t mean them. But the next day his parents sent him off to Red Wing Seminary (a Minnesota institution which was also a high school and college), hoping that under the strong Christian teaching Enoch would finally give his heart to God.
Nothing of the sort happened. In fact, matters became even worse. In Enoch’s words, “It was a miracle we didn’t get fired from school, the whole bunch of us. There were only one or two decent men in the whole class. The rest of us were regular dogs, every one of us. We lied ourselves out, otherwise we would surely have been fired. We knew almost every bartender and every saloon in Red Wing, and we had access to the back rooms . . . We were out for the faculty, and the faculty was out for us.” During his second year at Red Wing, Enoch had a spiritual awakening in which he felt deeply convicted of sin until he was miserable and wanted to change his ways. But after finding that he could not resist the temptation to sin, he soon flung himself back into his old ways as much as ever.
In 1901, after five years of study, Enoch graduated from the Seminary and got a job in Red Wing so he could continue living there rather than return to his parents’ home. He was still carrying anger toward his alma mater when one day he met a former teacher on the sidewalk in town. In the course of conversation, Professor Smith told Enoch that he was ashamed to have his name signed on Enoch’s diploma. To this Enoch replied, “I’m ashamed to have your name there too!”
After a time in Red Wing, Enoch studied pharmacy for a year in Brookings, South Dakota. Then he pursued a job in Texas; but when it fell through, he and some friends decided “to see the world” starting with California. Work was not found easily; and when it was, Enoch was too restless to stay in one place for very long. His workplaces included a livery stable, the gold mines, and a large-scale cattle ranch. Still unsatisfied, he finally decided to hitchhike his way back to his family in Centerville.
In June of 1906, the now 25-year-old Enoch Scotvold traveled to Camrose, Alberta, Canada, to visit his brother-in-law who was a pastor there. One of his brother-in-law’s parishioners was 20-year-old Carrie Hendrickson who was teaching Sunday School in the log schoolhouse when Enoch arrived. It was Enoch’s first trip into Canada and Carrie was the first woman he had ever seen there, but he looked no further. They fell in love and were married eight months later. It is perhaps baffling that a Christian Sunday School teacher could be charmed into marrying the unconverted Enoch Scotvold, but perhaps the explanation is in the fact that Carrie was an inexperienced Christian of only three years when the two first met.
The pair settled in Camrose where Enoch leaned on his pharmaceutical training and partnered in opening a drug store. Bored of this after only a year, he took up real estate with a side business of insurance sales. In both of these endeavors he was quite successful, becoming a respected business man and even a City Council member. He even gave the appearance of being religious by being both a member and an officer of the church as well as a good husband.
But all was not completely happy at home. Although Enoch and Carrie loved each other very much, the young wife became increasingly troubled over her husband’s unconverted and abhorrent lifestyle. He spent much of his time on tobacco and liquor and playing poker with his friends till late at night. And not only Carrie but also fellow businessmen were concerned about Enoch’s path. To some degree, Enoch was concerned too. Just as during his second year at Red Wing Seminary, he wanted to quit some of his sinful habits but found that he could not. Secretly, he hoped that one day he could become a Christian like Carrie and that God would spare his life until that day came. As the months of marriage turned into years, Carrie fervently prayed for her husband’s salvation, crying out, “All-loving, all-merciful God! Please save Enoch’s soul! I don’t care what you do with him after that.” In these prayers she was joined by Enoch’s mother.
Six years after Enoch and Carrie were married, a revival broke out in Camrose. It started with the preaching of a passionate evangelist from Nebraska. At first a few Christians were themselves revived, and then some unconverted individuals received Christ for the first time. The preaching services were held in a big tent because, as interest increased, there was no other place in town large enough to hold all those attending. With a growing burden for the unsaved, the newly-revived Christians began gathering for regular prayer. One of those for whom they prayed was Enoch Scotvold.
Carrie was praying most desperately of all, as were Enoch’s mother and three of Carrie’s close friends. This little group gathered in Enoch’s own home and prayed urgently for his conversion. And God certainly answered. One night as Enoch was playing poker with his friends late into the night, he was suddenly overcome with the conviction of sin. Unable to stand it any longer, he threw down his cards saying, “Boys, I am through.” As he walked out into the night, his soul cried, “Lord, if You can save a sinner like me, now is the time!” Arriving home, he began fumbling through his Bible, sure that the answer must be there. At last he found the answer in Hebrews 7:25 and believed for the first time that “He (Christ) is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God through Him.”
On the strength of that verse, Enoch attended the revival meeting the next evening. Carrie sat with him in the back row. After the service was over and most were heading home, Carrie went to the front to pray along with some other believers. Enoch knew he should be there too, but he found himself completely powerless either to go up front or to leave the tent. It seems that “with the heart” he had “believed unto righteousness” as the first part of Romans 10:10 says, yet he found it impossible to “with the mouth” make “confession unto salvation” as the verse concludes. At the height of Enoch’s inner conflict, Carrie came back and invited him to the front, leading him by the arm to the little prayer group. There Enoch knelt and prayed and, as he often liked to put it years later, “was baptized into the fellowship of believers.” At the encouragement of those believers, he was able to stand and stammer a brief testimony of his new faith in Christ while holding onto a tent pole for support because of his terrible fear of public speaking. But these mature Christians were thrilled and nurtured him in the faith as the days went on and his behavior clearly changed to reflect that of His Savior.
The Camrose revival continued to grow and shake the whole community. As one result, the Alberta Inner Mission Society (AIMS) was formed to organize schedules for all the visiting preachers and evangelists. It was through the AIMS that Enoch Scotvold was first urged by his fathers and mothers in Christ, or “practically forced” as he put it, into the work of evangelism. Still uncomfortable with public speaking, he at first only traveled with another speaker. But as time went on and others encouraged him, he himself began to preach more and more. Yet all this was without formal theological training which he never did pursue during his life. His only seminary, so to speak, was the Bible, alongside of which were authors like Luther, Rosenius, and Hallesby. But God’s blessing was clearly on his preaching. Wherever Enoch Scotvold went, many souls came to Christ for salvation.
In 1917, Scotvold and two of his friends began “Camrose Week,” an annual week-long Bible conference drawing in many evangelists and laymen as speakers, providing rich fellowship for multitudes of Christians from around the region, and bringing many lost souls to salvation. The idea for such a conference came from one of Scotvold’s friends who, during the course of a business trip, had seen a similar Christian gathering in Europe. “Camrose Week” proved to be popular with Christians all over Alberta who came each year, and it was a format that Scotvold was to eagerly promote elsewhere in the future.
Around 1921, Scotvold began traveling as an evangelist with the Hauge Inner Mission Federation. This opportunity brought him into contact with a much wider range of pastors and church leaders in Canada and the United States. Unknown to him, two of those pastors in Minneapolis, Minnesota, were pushing for him to be appointed as an official evangelist of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America (NLCA, later the Evangelical Lutheran Church or ELC). As Scotvold passed through Minneapolis one day in 1923, the two pastors met him and took him to the NLCA Home Mission secretary who greeted him with, “So you want to be an evangelist!” Completely surprised and not having a chance to say no, Scotvold was rushed through the various formalities, including meeting with the Board of Home Missions. There he was questioned on a few basic points of doctrine until a controversial question was brought up which caused such a big debate among the Board members that they forgot to question Scotvold further. In the end, they gave him their approval; but for some unknown reason they never issued him a formal letter of call although he was their evangelist for the next 34 years. “Perhaps,” he was known to say with a smile, “because I was a layman.”
But layman or not, Scotvold was blessed of God. Revival often followed in the wake of his preaching. A noteworthy example was, ironically, at Red Wing Seminary in February of 1926. Prepared by months of prayer, the students were incredibly moved by his closing message on none other than Hebrews 7:25, “He (Christ) is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God through Him.” As always, Scotvold’s preaching was not dramatic or emotional but modest and quiet and in the power of God. One student testified nearly three and a half decades later that he still had Scotvold’s theme that night ringing in his ears: “Christ is able!” When finally the service was able to be closed after innumerable prayers and testimonies, the students formed double lines waiting to receive personal counsel from Scotvold. Looking back, he once commented, “I was on my knees so much that night that I thought I would have worn holes in my pants!” Another time at a two-point parish, a revival broke out at the country church in the morning; and in the evening at the church in town, as Scotvold put it, “The Spirit just seemed to fall on the audience, and when I quit preaching, the pastor took charge . . . He gave an altar call, and the entire congregation came forward. I don’t think there was one person in that whole church who didn’t stay for prayer!” Such was the power of God through this humble evangelist.
During the Depression of the 1930’s, the NLCA Home Missions program of which Scotvold was a part suffered, losing an evangelist to retirement and being unable to afford a replacement.9 Another of their evangelists died several years later. As one man who knew Scotvold well has suggested, it may have been this foundering NLCA situation which God used to spur Scotvold on to what he did next. Rather than despairing over the faltering synodical program, he foresaw the possibility of an even larger, inter-synodical program reaching throughout the United States. And so, drawing on the format of “Camrose Week” and his own experience in evangelism, he gathered three other evangelists to help him prepare a program for a three-day conference on evangelism. The other evangelists were John Carlsen of the NLCA, Jens M. Halvorson of the Lutheran Free Church, and Joseph L. Stump of the United Lutheran Church of America. Together, these men presented the idea for their program to Rev. Evald J. Conrad of Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and requested permission to host such a conference at Trinity. Conrad himself was well-known to be aflame for evangelism. In his ten years of preaching a strong Law and Gospel message at Trinity, the church had grown from 34 members to around 1,000. Just a year earlier, Trinity had hosted a similar, although much smaller scale, conference on evangelism for Conrad and some of his former seminary classmates.
Clearly, Scotvold was the main spokesman for the group of four that approached Conrad that fall of 1936. More than twenty years later, Conrad reflected, “I shall never forget the day he came to see me to talk about the need, the place, and the urgency of evangelism in our Lutheran Church. He suggested that we plan a conference for three full days when this whole subject would be presented and discussed.” Collectively of the four evangelists Conrad said, “Their hearts were aflame for evangelism. They felt there was a great need for a united effort and program of evangelism in the Lutheran Church of America.”
With Conrad’s and Trinity’s approval, the evangelism conference was scheduled for January 5, 6, and 7 of 1937. From the beginning, it was mightily blessed of God. Evangelists, pastors, teachers, and laymen from nearly all of the Lutheran synods came together and were deeply moved by messages on the urgent need for evangelism in the church. At that time, the subject of evangelism was often avoided in Lutheran circles with the fear that, if practiced, it might lead to emotionalism and fanaticism. And to some, evangelism meant nothing more than a campaign to boost church membership rosters. But to those attending this conference, God gave the clear vision of joining forces to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation, that souls might repent and be converted. Even Conrad said, “It was like no other conference I had ever attended. Never had the cause of evangelism so stirred and challenged me. I felt, as did many others, that I wanted to give myself fully to this movement.”
As the conference came to an end, the natural conclusion to God’s stirring of hearts was that the original committee of four evangelists became a permanent committee with the fitting, although perhaps somewhat unwieldy, name of the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee. To this committee were added Rev. Conrad and Rev. A.W. Knock of the Lutheran Bible Institute. The Committee’s intent was to be, as Conrad put it, “a movement within the church and not a separate organization . . . our call was to promote the work of evangelism in the whole church.”
That original three-day conference came to be an annual event called the Midwinter Evangelistic Conference. And the work of the Committee grew and grew. Late in the summer of 1938 in Eagle Grove, Iowa, they sponsored their first conference outside Minneapolis. Primarily suggested and designed by Scotvold, it was a week-long Bible conference in the style of “Camrose Week.” Soon it was drawing well over 1,000 people from a radius of more than 100 miles. The next summer, again through Scotvold’s vision, a similar annual Bible conference was begun on Medicine Lake just outside Minneapolis. It was called the Deeper Life Conference. Dozens of other similar conferences and evangelistic meetings were organized. In 1945, believing that their work from God was just beginning, the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee changed their name to the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement as more fully representing their vision for evangelism throughout the country. Little did they imagine that those first eight years of growth had been, comparatively speaking, God merely preparing them to be a rushing river of blessing in the years of national revival that were to follow.
In the years that did follow, Conrad became the main spokesman and leader of the LEM, assuming the first directorship from 1948-1954. His God-given combination of charisma and zeal fit him well for the task. As time went on, many people came to subconsciously think of Conrad as the founder of the LEM. Scotvold was a frequent and much-loved speaker at LEM conferences, but many never suspected that it had been he in whom God had planted the original idea for the LEM. It has only been in recent years that one with a more intimate knowledge of the story and the characters has confirmed what Conrad implied several times: that Scotvold was indeed “the ‘father’ of the LEM.”10 Orloue N. Gisselquist, LEM secretary from 1943-1953, has said that the program for that original three-day conference on evangelism “had Scotvold’s fingerprints all over it” and that a close family friend of the Scotvolds also credited him “’with originating the idea of the now well known Lutheran Evangelistic Movement.’”11 Of course, the modest Scotvold would never have said so himself. And, in many ways, it mattered little to which person God had given the idea. It only mattered that God’s work was being done.
But looking back now three-quarters of a century later, it is surely significant for us to know the testimony of the man whom God used to initiate such a wide-spread and effective Movement. Why was it that the LEM’s main concern was for evangelism within the church and not for the mass evangelization of those outside the church? Perhaps it was because the man to whom God had given the vision for the LEM had himself spent many of the first thirty years of his life immersed in the church while not a Christian. He knew firsthand what it was to run from God while sometimes feigning outward religion for the sake of appearance. Thus, after Enoch Scotvold’s conversion, his concern was for others who were like what he had been. And so, he was willing to proclaim a bold message that was perhaps not always popular in the Lutheran church. To quote from one of his sermons,
“Sad to say a great number of our dear church members are spiritually dead. ‘Thou hast a name that thou lives, but art dead’ (Revelation 3:1). In spite of Word and Sacrament, they have not had a personal meeting with Christ; they have merely had an external contact with the means of grace . . . These are people who regard themselves as Christians although they are spiritually dead. They have never felt a real anguish on account of their sins . . . Much less have they wept tears of joy and glorified God for his mercy. They read and hear the Word of God without being especially impressed by it . . . People in that condition have nothing but the dead faith of the intellect.”12
Once Scotvold was visiting with a woman who had long been a church member and believed herself to be a Christian. But after some conversation, he was not as convinced as she was and finally asked her, “Have you ever seen yourself as an ungodly person?” “No, that I have never done!” she replied. “But,” Scotvold countered, “Paul says that ‘in due time Christ died for the ungodly.’ [Romans 5:6] This must mean then that Christ did not die for you!”13 Such was the insight of a man who had himself once been an unbelieving church member.
There is no doubt that Enoch Scotvold’s story is really a story of God’s working and a testimony to the fact that “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.” Scotvold himself realized this. Towards the end of his life, he reflected on an earlier occurrence.
“I recall when I was lying at the point of death . . . following an automobile accident . . . I remembered my conversion, and everything I had done since I had been an evangelist for many years. There had been awakenings under my ministry. I had prayed with souls and seen them saved. But when I looked back on all that, I saw plainly that everything was tainted with self and sin. So I had to ask God to forgive me . . . I had only one plea, ‘Christ died for me,’ and only one prayer, that of the publican: ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.’ It got down to that! No, you can’t depend either on your baptismal certificate or on an old conversion experience. You’ve got to have Christ. The Bible doesn’t tell us overly much of what heaven is like, but there certainly isn’t any mention of man’s merit or worthiness. Everything centers around the Lamb and the love of the Lamb.”14
That was the humble testimony of the man whom God had used to initiate a Movement that touched tens of thousands of lives. He knew it was not his own doing but God’s. And consequently, those of us today who may in some way trace our spiritual heritage back to the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement can be sure that our own lives have been deeply affected, not by the ideas of men, but by God and His wonderful works. “That no flesh should glory in His presence . . . that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.’” (I Corinthians 1:29-31 NKJV)
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