Chapter 5 - Born, Not Of The Will Of Man, But Of God
Series: Our Fathers Saw His Mighty Works
Throughout the centuries, it has often been a popular activity to compile genealogies or family trees. Although these are sometimes begun for no other reason than curiosity or hobby, they may aid those of a younger generation in understanding themselves through learning about their ancestral origins and formative influences. The recording of genealogies dates back to the beginning of time when God in the book of Genesis preserved the ancestries of the first humans who inhabited the earth. In fact, each of our own family trees if completely assembled would conclude, “Which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.” (Luke 3:38b KJV)
In a far more important realm, all those who have become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ have a spiritual family tree with only two levels. Represented on paper it is a Vine with many branches coming out of it. No branch grows out of another branch, but each emanates directly from the Vine. Every Christian is a direct descendant of God and has a genealogy which reads, “Born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13 NKJV) No true Christian is a concoction of imperfect human intellect and effort. To believe so could lead to complete disillusionment with and abandonment of Christianity. But every Christian is a miraculous new creation in Christ.
As evidenced by its name, the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee, which was renamed the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement in 1945, was founded for the purpose that men and women, young and old, might be miraculously born anew of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And this happened countless times. Although documentation of specific instances is scarcer for the first eight years until the monthly magazine Evangelize began to be published in May 1945, the most significant testimonies are those of the original founders themselves. The three evangelists that Enoch Scotvold recruited to help him prepare that first evangelistic conference in January 1937 were no casual second-generation Christians but had been definitely, and in some cases dramatically, born of God. What had happened to them they longed to see God repeat in the lives of others to whom they preached His Word. Thus they felt strongly led of God to begin an organization in which evangelistic preaching might be promoted.
The oldest of these LEM founders, both physically and spiritually, was Rev. Jens M. Halvorson. He was born on February 16, 1878, in Wanamingo, Minnesota.1 Spiritually, he was born before the turn of the century during the powerful “Revival in the Nineties” that coursed among Norwegian Lutherans in America.2 At the time of his ordination in the Lutheran Free Church in 1902, he gave the following testimony of God’s powerful moving in the first two-and-a-half decades of his life.3
“Quite early [Jens] felt God’s Spirit working on his heart. Concern about his sin and lost state made a great impression on him and gave him a longing in his heart to become a child of God. During his preparation for Confirmation, this longing became yet stronger and he repeated his baptismal vows on June 10, 1893, with the sincere desire to forsake the Devil and live for the Lord. During this period of time he experienced something of the happiness and blessedness that through faith his sins were pardoned. However, he could not wholly escape a guilty conscience.
“In the fall of 1893, he began to study at [the Academy Division of] Augsburg Seminary. There he came under the constant influence of God’s Word which often produced an anxiety in his soul and a fear of death. Chased by a vicious conscience, he could not find peace in sin nor was he really that serious in seeking the Lord and His grace.
“This time passed until the fall of 1897. There was at this time a great awakening and revival in Wanamingo. Many among the young people came to experience life in God, including two of his siblings. Now the Spirit of God overpowered him. In a vivid realization that he had been resisting God’s spiritual call, he yielded to God’s grace. But still it took a little more time before he had saving faith in the blood of Christ.
“When he started to experience God’s marvelous love and mercy in his own heart, it became his desire to go out to his fellow human beings with the message about Him for the purpose of converting sinners to blessedness and salvation.
“In the spring of 1899, he graduated from the College Division of Augsburg Seminary. In the fall of the same year, he entered the Theological Division of Augsburg Seminary from which he received his degree on May 29, 1902. Being at the seminary had been a great blessing for him. It had not been easy and there were difficult times, but these served to make the grace of God more and more precious. Finally it was only trusting in this grace that he could confidently present himself for ordination.”
Beginning in 1902, Halvorson proclaimed that message of God’s saving grace as a parish pastor in Argyle, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Ashland, Wisconsin; and Northwood, North Dakota respectively.4 Then in 1924 he and his family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, from where he began to travel as the official evangelist of the Lutheran Free Church,5 often accompanied by his brother Martin who assisted with singing.6 During Halvorson’s fifteen years as evangelist, he held meetings in nearly every Free Church as well as other Lutheran congregations7 while being entirely supported by offerings taken at the meetings.8 Clearly, the same power of God that had brought Halvorson himself to repentance decades earlier was still mightily at work through him. Every year, his synod reported things like, “His meetings have, by the grace of God, meant new life and interest to many a congregation,”9 and, “We thank God for the evidences of His blessing upon this work in the spiritual awakening and quickening which have followed it. This work is to be commended to our congregations for their prayers and participation”10
Perhaps the most memorable of the revivals which broke out under Halvorson’s preaching occurred in Newfolden, Minnesota in 1933. Beginning on Tuesday, March 21, and concluding on Sunday, March 26, Halvorson preached evangelistic services at Bethlehem Lutheran Church.11 His specific texts and topics are not remembered, but it is possible that his sermons during that 1933 Lenten season were similar to a series he once suggested for a Deeper Life Conference:
1. Christ for me
2. I to the world
3. The world to me
4. The flesh.12
Filled with Scriptures and illustrations from daily life, Halvorson’s bold preaching was used of God to awaken many to their sinful condition while his tactful attitude showed sincere concern for souls as he pointed them to Jesus the Savior.13 So many both young and old were converted through the Holy Spirit’s moving14 that substitute speakers were found for Halvorson’s next scheduled week of meetings in La Crosse, Wisconsin, so that he could stay an additional week at Newfolden.15 The revival continued that second week to such an extent that the young people remembered it vividly nearly 60 years later.16 On May 1st, the Lutheran Messenger reported, “News from Newfolden, Minn. Quite a few changes have taken place here . . . Most of all do we thank God for the spiritual awakening in our midst and for the many who have sought salvation for their souls these last weeks.”17
During the next several years, Halvorson’s evangelistic meetings were in such high demand that he not only filled his schedule18 but had to decline some invitations.19 So many were these declined invitations that the Lutheran Free Church added another full-time evangelist in mid 1936.20 Later that same year, Enoch Scotvold approached Jens Halvorson with the request to help plan a conference on Lutheran evangelism for January 1937. Having seen a general growing hunger for the gospel and believing that it necessitated a collaborative evangelistic effort among many Lutheran synods, the veteran evangelist readily consented.
It is amazing to consider that, whereas Jens Halvorson had been converted before the turn of the century, Evangelist John Carlsen had not even been converted before the beginning of the decade in which Enoch Scotvold recruited him. Carlsen was born on September 29, 1899,21 in Hillesoy, Troms, Norway. There his devoted Christian parents raised their family of fourteen while also caring for six orphaned children.22 Undoubtedly, John was affected early by his parents’ Godly lives and by the fact that his mother told him she had dedicated him to the Lord for Christian service and missions work.23 Yet he firmly resisted God’s call for many years and “resented his mother’s transaction” with God.24
After finishing public schooling, John became partners with one of his brothers in a commercial fishing business in Norway.25 By taking business training, he was able to work his way up from a mere fisherman to bookkeeper and then buyer for their fishing export firm.26 But when the post World War I recession caused their business to collapse in 1921,27 John immigrated across the Atlantic where he found employment on a wheat farm in Saskatchewan, Canada.28 The next year, he married his fiancée Konstance who had also immigrated from Norway; and together they moved to Eagle River and then Milwaukee, Wisconsin.29 Here John was employed first with the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company and then with a photography studio retouching portraits.30 And here he finally began listening to God’s call at 30 years of age.
It was obvious that God had given John Carlsen many talents. How else could one person work in fishing, business, farming, manufacturing, and photography successively? But it was also God who took away one of these talents to begin getting this man’s attention. One day at the photography studio, John suddenly discovered that he had lost his skill in retouching portraits. His loss of ability was so obvious that his employer was forced to let him go.31 The loss of a job was a serious thing during those early years of the Great Depression, especially considering that the Carlsens now had two young daughters and owned their own home in Milwaukee.32 Still John resisted God and tested Him further. Since God had only removed the one talent, John instead began working as a carpenter and builder.33 But God’s call was persistent. Before long, John was injured on the job. A short time later he was injured again, and this time quite seriously.34 Finally, “he understood what all this meant and was obedient to God.”35 Repenting of his sin, he joyfully received forgiveness and salvation through God’s grace. And he began enthusiastically preparing for God’s call to Christian service by taking evening classes.36 Within a year he moved his family to Minneapolis so that he could enroll as a student at the Lutheran Bible Institute.37
One day at LBI in the fall of 1932, the course of the rest of Carlsen’s life was determined during a Missions Survey Class on “Unreached Fields” taught by Rev. Clarence O. Granlund.38 As Rev. Granlund described various unevangelized areas in the world, the students - and especially John Carlsen - were profoundly affected by the needs of South America.39 Said fellow student Stanley Olson, “While the teacher moved on to other areas in his survey, most of us remained with our thoughts and prayers riveted on South America.”40 As John and Stanley shared their mutual God-given burden after class that day, John suggested that they begin a prayer group41 “to call upon the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth laborers to the Latin American field.”42 At the first prayer meeting, Stanley brought a large map of South America over which the small group prayed, moving from area to area.43
The prayer group began meeting weekly in the Carlsen’s apartment44 and growing steadily until size forced it to move to the LBI campus and then Calvary Lutheran Church (Rev. Granlund’s charge) and Central Lutheran Church.45 After several years, the intercessors began calling themselves “The South American Mission Prayer League”46 and praying more fervently that God would guide some of His servants to a specific South American field of His choosing.47 Little did they know that they were praying for one of their own number. Shortly after John Carlsen graduated from LBI, the Holy Spirit began to impress upon him that he himself was to go to South America.48 But the timing and the means were not obvious yet.
And so, for a brief time after finishing at LBI, Carlsen became a parochial school teacher and a pastor’s assistant. But when an invitation opened the door, he soon discovered God’s present calling for him as an evangelist within the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America and for the Western Lutheran Bible Institute in Montana.49 Still heavily burdened for South America, he preached powerfully “combining an evangelistic and missionary emphasis.”50 It was during this time that Enoch Scotvold asked him to become part of a volunteer committee for planning a January 1937 Lutheran evangelistic conference. Though still believing that God’s ultimate call for him was to South America, the ambitious Carlsen accepted the offer and thus became one of the founding committee members of the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement.
Later that May of 1937, the South American Mission Prayer League began to organize itself into a missionary sending agency.51 At an unforgettable prayer meeting on August 6, God made it exceedingly clear to those present that He was calling John Carlsen and fellow intercessor Pastor Ernest Weinhardt to go to South America.52 In preparation for this, the two men toured across parts of the United States presenting the cause of missions and preaching evangelistically.53
Carlsen had already been doing this on his own for some time with the mighty blessing of God upon him. Earlier that summer, he had preached in Kloten, North Dakota. The closing service was scheduled for the evening of Sunday, June 6, 1937. But at that meeting “a mighty and sudden revival broke out.”54 Carlsen rejoiced that it “was one of the more, if not the most, remarkable meetings I have had. It was marvelous in this respect: that it was self-evident that it was all brought about by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit. When I entered the pulpit, the Holy Spirit gave me such a definite assurance that souls would be saved that I started my introductory remarks by stating that God just told me that souls would be saved tonight.” “About 30 souls - young and old, men and women, boys and girls - were convicted by the Holy Spirit of sin, righteousness, and judgment and surrendered to Jesus Christ.” “It was a blessed experience by which I have been greatly humbled, and my heart is blessing God. The pastor said, ‘I will never in my life forget this meeting nor will anyone else that was present.’” “Because of this sudden revival, we decided to continue our meetings [the next] week also.”
At the end of 1937, Carlsen summarized the previous months of evangelism: “The Word has been presented to thousands of souls on the home-land . . . God has also, by His Spirit, through His Word led a good number of unsaved sinners to the cross . . . .”55 Within two months, Carlsen and Weinhardt were headed for Bolivia as the first missionaries of what became the World Mission Prayer League, the story of which is capably told elsewhere.56 But yet John Carlsen’s heart was very much with evangelism and with the work of the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee of which he was still a member. Enroute on a ship he wrote, “I have often thought of writing you asking how the Conference on Evangelism fared” (the second such conference which was held in January 1938). “I trust you had a blessed time and that something real constructive for Lutheran Evangelism was done. Were there many that attended? Please write me a few words about the Conference.”57 By October of that year, Carlsen and Weinhardt felt led of God that enough pioneer work had been done in preparation for future missionaries that Carlsen should return home and resume holding evangelistic meetings. Eager to begin, he wrote from Bolivia, “All invitations for evangelistic meetings or Bible conferences should be sent directly to my home address . . . .”58 Upon his return, his preaching continued to be greatly blessed of God.
If Jens Halvorson’s or John Carlsen’s testimonies were at all lacking in dramatic effect, the story of LEM founder Joseph Stump more than made up for them.59 Joseph Luther Stump had been born in 1896 into the home of a chief contemporary theologian. His father, Dr. Joseph Stump, was not only an important leader within his denomination (which, through merger, became part of the United Lutheran Church in America in 1918) but also the well-known author of a systematic theology, a textbook on ethics, and “Stump’s Catechism” which was a best-seller world-wide. In later years, he was also a seminary chair and president. With such a man for a father, young Joe was raised in a very religious, very staid, and very Lutheran environment. But even as a young boy he rebelled against the propriety of it all and made it obvious that he had no intention of following in his father’s path.
But in 1915, something changed his mind. During military service in World War I, Joe found himself in a foxhole in France with several comrades. Gripped by fear as gunfire and explosions rang overhead, Joe desperately prayed, “God, if you get me out of this mess, I’ll do anything! I’ll even become a minister!” God did indeed deliver him and eventually brought him back home where he told his father about his vow to the Almighty. With his father’s help, Joe not only kept his promise by attending seminary and being ordained but actually became a very successful minister, serving one of the largest ULCA congregations. In this parish he faithfully pastored for ten years, being loved by his parishioners among whom he made many friends.
One of these became his most trusted friend, and together they enjoyed many activities and spent much time. Then one day came the shocking and surreal news that this friend was gravely ill and had only weeks to live. No matter how hard he tried, Joe was unable to prepare himself for the dreaded day. But soon it arrived and he received a phone call to come to the hospital one last time. His friend had only hours left to live.
As his friend lay dying, Joe Stump held his hand and read to him from the Prayer Book. He assured him that heaven was not far off now because he had been so active in the church, had lived a good life, had believed the right doctrines. But just before passing into eternity, the frail man lifted his head from the pillow and stared right into Joe’s eyes with such a look of fear and horror that it was as if he were screaming, “Joe, why did you deceive me? My soul is lost!” But it was too late. He was dead, and Joe Stump was left with the agony of a tormented conscience.
In the days following the funeral, Stump did not recover. Deeply troubled, he took no appointments and paced his office. His wife and all of his closest friends and advisors assured him that he was just shaken up over the loss of a friend and recommended that he take some time off for relaxation and recuperation. But Stump was miserable. He saw his pastorate as a horrible failure and contemplated leaving the ministry. How could he continue when he possessed nothing himself which he could give his people to bring them peace and assurance of heaven in their dying hours? Groping in spiritual darkness, Stump arranged a leave of absence from his church. On his last Sunday, he forlornly told his congregation that he was missing something and could not preach again until he found it. Then he left by the back door for a destination that not even his wife knew.
In all of Joseph Stump’s blackness, there was a flicker of hope. One of the advisors in whom he had confided after the funeral was an acquaintance of his from New York City, the well-known Episcopal rector Samuel Shoemaker. Shoemaker had been the only one to acknowledge that Stump had a real problem but also that God had the answer for it. Quickly, Stump headed for New York City. When he arrived, he checked into a hotel and called Shoemaker. Shoemaker was too busy to get together that day, but he did take time to listen to Stump explain his troubles again in more detail over the phone. Stump concluded, “Maybe I need some new way to make God more real to people.” To this Shoemaker replied, “You sound like you’re talking about people being saved. You ought to go to the Bowery Mission. People get saved there all the time.” This was somewhat foreign terminology to Stump, but he was willing to try almost anything. That evening he headed to the Mission.
The Bowery Mission has been sadly described by one New York City pastor as being on “the street of forgotten men. Drunks lie in the gutter and on the sidewalks. The dregs of humanity gravitate [there].”60 Dressed in a dark suit and white collared shirt, Joseph Stump felt conspicuously out of place as he took a seat among the dozens of men who smelled of filth and alcohol. After the group sang a few songs, Mission Director Hadley began his sermon. He dealt with sin, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross. To Stump it seemed fairly ordinary and quite similar to what he preached back home.
But then Hadley continued: “Yes, I tell you that ‘all have sinned’ and need to repent. In fact, even those who stand behind pulpits need to be saved. Those with white collars have to be saved the same way that bums need to be saved.” Stump was furious at the insult! He was the only one in the audience with a white collar and those around him began glancing at him. As soon as the service was over, he charged out of the Mission and headed for his hotel in a blind rage. Seething in anger, he fell into a chair in his room and spent the night there sleeping fitfully.
Early the next morning, the phone rang. It was Shoemaker wondering what Stump had thought of the Mission the night before. “Did you go up front, Joe? I mean, when they asked for sinners who wanted to be saved, did you go, Joe?” Had Shoemaker really expected that? “Yes, Joe, I stayed home from an important meeting last night to pray that you would do just that.” Stump felt betrayed. He hung up the phone having no more reason to talk to this man who apparently thought he was as vile as a bum.
But as Joseph Stump continued to boil in anger, God’s Holy Spirit began to speak to him and to suggest that perhaps he was a worse sinner than he had thought. He recalled familiar Scriptures on which he had often preached, but now God made them painfully personal. As the hours passed that day, he became convinced that he indeed was a wretchedly wicked person who was unworthy to stand in God’s presence. “He experienced an anguish of soul such as he had never known.”
That evening found Joseph Stump once again at the Bowery Mission. Eagerly he listened to Hadley’s message and waited for its conclusion so that he could bolt, not for the door, but for the altar in response to the invitation to salvation by grace. Immediately, “a peace he had never known engulfed him.” He had found what he had been missing. On his way home, he passed a billboard which said, “Coke - It’s the real thing.” “No it’s not,” he shouted. “I have it. He’s the real thing! Hallelujah!”
Upon arriving home, he told his wife what God had done for him. She felt confused at first, but within a few days she too had repented of sin and found peace with God. And of course Stump joyfully told his congregation what had happened to him. Now he preached to them from a heart of repentance and belief. As he did so, numerous souls found salvation and many came from outside the church to hear this dynamically new-born preacher. Wednesday evening prayer meetings now saw packed audiences of vital Christians testifying with tears about how Jesus had saved them from their sins.
Not everyone was pleased, however. To many people in Stump’s church and synod it was offensive that the son of the prominent Dr. Stump would publicly proclaim that, although he had studied in a Lutheran college and seminary and had pastored a Lutheran church for ten years, he had not even been a Christian. His church board pledged to double his salary if he would quit this new kind of preaching, and one member appealed to the synod’s seminary to come and investigate. Because at that time Dr. Stump himself was president of the seminary, he answered this appeal by attending one of his son’s Wednesday evening prayer meetings. After an assembly full of tears and testimony, Dr. Stump had tears in his own eyes, saying, “Joe, all my life I’ve wanted to know how to make this happen and I never could.” After a thorough examination, the seminary was unable to find a legitimate reason for Stump to be removed from the pastorate. His congregation was split over whether or not he should be forced to resign. For a time, he continued on as their pastor; but when the divisive battle showed no signs of ending, Stump resigned.
Now God led him into a full-time ministry of evangelism using the dramatic story of his conversion to bring invitations for preaching in various churches, conferences, and meetings. Wherever Stump went, he testified of how God had saved him. Often his sermon texts were the parables and miracles of Jesus, through every one of which he made plain the way of salvation. Whenever Stump preached, the Holy Spirit moved powerfully; and hundreds of souls were brought to the cross of Christ over the next several years. It was during this time that Enoch Scotvold recruited Joseph Stump for a team of volunteer evangelists preparing the program for a Lutheran evangelistic conference in January 1937. Stump accepted and in the following years became a vital member of the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee.
Enoch Scotvold and the three evangelists that he assembled so many decades ago left no doubt in their testimonies that they themselves had been born of God. They were not the product of men’s persuasion or of rigorous religious discipline. They had only been saved from sin by the direct intervention of the God who had sent Jesus to die for them. Immediately upon being born again, they were each overwhelmed with the desire to preach God’s Word to others that they too might repent and receive God’s saving grace. When these four men came together in late 1936 to begin planning a Lutheran evangelistic conference, they did not know the specific ways in which God would mightily bless their newfound ministry in the years ahead. But they did firmly believe that the same Word by which God had given them authority to become His sons was the only means by which anyone else could be saved. Thus they enthusiastically joined forces in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to a seeking generation. And through the evangelistic organization which they founded, God did indeed bring many sons and daughters to glory.
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