Chapter 6 - Yes, The Deep Things Of God
Series: Our Fathers Saw His Mighty Works
If its name was to be merely reflective of its largest and most widely-known work, the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement might just as aptly have been named the Lutheran Deeper Life Movement. It’s true that the original priority of the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee was the cause of evangelism, but as God expanded their work He very soon made clear that their calling within the church was to more than one main purpose. Within the first two years of the Committee’s existence, “as the friends of evangelism began to rally around [the Committee and its work], the desire arose for a summer Bible conference stressing the deeper truths of Christian living.”1 Believing that “such a hunger for a deeper life in Christ is common to all reborn lives” because “those who have tasted of the good things of God long for more,”2 the Committee began in early 1939 to plan for such a conference.3 It was to be in the form of a week-long Bible camp held the last week in July. Although the note of evangelism was still to be present as it always was in every LEM function throughout the years, this conference was designed mainly for Christians. There was an emphasis on surrender, sanctification, victory in daily life, fruitfulness, Christian service, and missions.4 As Rev. Conrad put it, “None of us want to live a defeated, half-hearted Christian life. We are glad to learn as we study God’s Word that He has provided victory for us that we may become ‘more than conquerors.’”5 By March of 1939, the Committee had given the proposed conference the name that was destined to become so well-known throughout the Midwest: The Deeper Life Conference.6 Whether or not the term “Deeper Life” was completely original with the Committee is unknown, but it was a term that was to become most often associated and almost synonymous with the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement in the years ahead. The Deeper Life Conference would become the flagship conference of the LEM.
But even a month before the Deeper Life Conference had been named, its location had been decided.7 It was to be held at Mission Farms on the north shore of Medicine Lake about ten miles northwest of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, in what is now the suburb of Plymouth. Considering what an integral part of a most significant LEM ministry this location was to become over the following decades, a brief history of Mission Farms seems in order here.
In the mid to late 1920’s, God planted within the heart of the Minneapolis Union City Mission and its superintendent Dr. W.E. Paul the desire to buy a farm where men who had been recently converted through the ministry of the Mission might escape inner-city life for a time.8 The verse that God impressed on the minds of the Mission’s leaders was, “Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people . . . .” (Jeremiah 9:2 KJV) Many of these new Christians desperately needed a place where hey could build up strength from former lives of alcohol and poor health, develop a strong work ethic, and grow in Christ apart from the sinful temptations which were so familiar and plentiful in the city. The Mission’s initial search for a farm near Minneapolis revealed 130 acres of land, mostly wooded, with 3,000 feet of shoreline on Medicine Lake. The natural beauty of the location seemed promising, but the farm itself had been abandoned and was as run-down as it could be. Weeds choked the land, trees lay fallen throughout the woods, dilapidated buildings leaned beyond repair, and debris was strewn along nearly the entire shoreline. However, on the upside, the Mission was allowed to rent the farm for a one-year trial period with the promise of being able to put the rental money towards purchasing the land if they chose to do so. The trial year was so successful that the Mission purchased the farm in 1928. From the very beginning, newly-converted men were set to work cleaning up the land, running a sawmill to turn trees into lumber, constructing new buildings and farm implements, caring for livestock, and growing crops. Worship services were held on site for the men, and an outdoor platform was constructed for this purpose during the second year. Before beginning work on the platform, a man who had been a Christian less than one month knelt to pray, “Dear God, I have done many things against You. This is the first thing I have ever done for You. Now bless it.” Indeed, God would bless the ministry of Mission Farms far beyond what anyone could have envisioned at that time.
In addition to serving as a home for newly converted men, the Mission Farms property was also used during 1928 to host a missions conference and regular Sunday afternoon services with guest preachers from various denominations. These endeavors were so well received by the Christian community that the property was opened to other Christian groups as a conference center beginning in 1929. The grounds were very appealing for such a use. They were secluded and peaceful, distant enough from the city to eliminate certain sinful temptations, yet close enough to be reached easily by car or bus. Southerly winds which blew across the spring-fed waters of Medicine Lake helped to cool the air somewhat during the summer months. The popularity of Missions Farms as a Christian conference center began to soar during the 1930’s. Dormitories and auditoriums were constructed and many more acres of land were added. By the first year of the Deeper Life Conference, Mission Farms actually consisted of four farms containing a total of 512 acres and 8,000 feet of shoreline. Two of the farms continued being used for men while the other two were used for Christian camps, conferences, and conventions. During 1939, these latter two farms were booked from the middle of June through the beginning of September for gatherings such as the Youth Temperance Council, the Lutheran Free Church Young People’s Assembly, the Christian and Missionary Alliance Conference, and the Northwestern Bible Conference. For standard fees, Mission Farms provided camp and conference attendees with breakfast, dinner, and supper in addition to lodging. Recreational opportunities available during free times included row boats, fishing, swimming, a diving dock, tennis courts, ball fields, volley ball, horseshoe pits, and playground equipment for children.
But the incredible architecture of the Mission Farms buildings was in itself nearly sufficient to create an unforgettable conference experience. Two factors especially seemed to contribute to the uniqueness of these buildings: the use of affordable and available secondhand materials and Dr. Paul’s original design work. The building materials were collected in a variety of ways. Mission Farms was paid $1,000 to dismantle the old National Hotel in Minneapolis, and brick and lumber were obtained from this endeavor in addition to the money. Medicine Lake provided sand for mortar and plaster, and stones were gathered from wherever they could be found. Stained glass windows were salvaged from an old church which was to be demolished. From this assortment of materials, the 600-seat Youth Memorial Chapel was constructed. It was a unique combination of majestic and rustic that perhaps has never been equaled. The high and steeply-sloped roof, the elongated windows, the stately façade on one end, and the towering turret on the other end all evoked the majestic. Contributing to the rustic were the large irregular stones protruding from the brick exterior, the flat stones covering the interior walls and floor, and the “pews” built from rough-cut logs and saplings. The architecture of this chapel became the model for part or all of quite a few other buildings which followed, including dormitories of various sizes and the 2,000-seat Tabernacle which was built in the late 1930’s. By the early 1940‘s, the conference facilities included four big lodges, ten cottages, Little Mother’s Inn, the Speaker’s Residence, the Wigwam, and fifty “tepees” which were scattered throughout the grounds in several “villages.” Each building contributed to the unique and picturesque setting. For example, a tepee was a small “cabin” of sorts consisting of an approximately two-foot-high outer wall made from upright logs and a steep, pyramidal, shingled roof rising about four times as high as the outer wall. A single door was cut into the side of this structure. Most tepees slept four people; a few slept six. The Wigwam was an enormous, elongated, multi-level tepee with a foundation of brick and stone. Because of the natural beauty of Mission Farms and the size and style of its accommodations, Christian leaders were already calling it the greatest conference grounds in the United States in 1939 when the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee began planning their first Deeper Life Conference there.
Early into those plans, the Evangelistic Committee decided that the Deeper Life Conference should “be held especially for pastors and church leaders of the Northwest.”9 Accordingly, a letter of invitation was mailed to Lutheran pastors of every synod in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Canada.10 It read in part as follows:
“Dear Fellow-Servant of Christ . . . The Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Conference Committee has arranged for a ‘Deeper Life Week’ at Medicine Lake, July 24th thru 30th
. . . We are planning for a real ‘Deeper Life’ program. Along with the conference we plan to have supervised study and play for the children, so that entire families may attend and that every member of the family may have something of interest to deepen the spiritual life . . . Will you speak to the leaders in your congregation about its possibilities and invite them to attend? Will you send us the names of key-men in your church, so that information can be sent to them directly?”11
In addition to these letters, advertisements were placed in each of the various synodical magazines,12 10,000 brochures and 100 posters were printed and distributed,13 and two-inch ads were run in Minneapolis newspapers as the camp date approached.14 Clearly, this conference was intended specifically for the spiritual nourishment and refreshment of Christians. A few excerpts from the Committee’s advertisement brochure summed things up best:
“Welcome to the Lutheran Deeper Life Conference at Mission Farms.”
“Come ye yourselves apart . . . and rest a while. - Mark 6:31
Grant unto Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word. - Acts 4:29
So there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. - Acts 3:19
God is willing. Pray - plan - prepare for a share in these blessings.”
“Plan your vacation so as to include all or part of the Lutheran Deeper Life Conference. A vacation that includes refreshing for your soul as well as physical relaxation is a vacation with a purpose.”15
Having had no initial idea of how many people to expect but trusting that God had ordained the planning and purpose of the conference, the Evangelistic Committee was thrilled with a registration of 269.16 That first Lutheran Deeper Life Conference began on the morning of Monday, July 24, 1939, and ran through the evening of the following Sunday, July 30. The general daily program for Monday through Saturday was as follows:17
9:00-9:50 AM - Bible study in Romans (Dr. J.S. Melby)
10:00-10:50 AM - The Holy Spirit (Rev. Anton Lundeen)
11:00-11:50 AM - Studies on the Deeper Life (Rev. J.O. Gisselquist, Mon.-Thurs.;
Dr. B.M. Christensen, Fri.-Sat.)
12:00 noon - lunch
1:00-4:30 PM - study, prayer, rest and recreation
4:30-5:30 PM - vespers (a guest speaker at each service)
8:00 PM - evangelistic service (Rev. T.L. Rydbeck)
During the sessions each morning from 9:00 until noon, special classes and recreation times were held for children ages 3 to 15. On the concluding day of the conference, a traditional Sunday church schedule was adopted:
9:30-10:30 AM - Bible study hour (Dr. J.S. Melby)
10:45 AM - morning service (Rev. J.O. Gisselquist)
3:00 PM - evangelistic service (Rev. Joseph Stump)
8:00 PM - evangelistic service (Rev. T.L. Rydbeck)
In addition to those who registered for the entire conference, there were also undoubtedly those who commuted to Mission Farms from the nearby vicinity, some of them probably just for the evening or Sunday services.18 Rich spiritual blessings abounded for all who attended.19 In addition to the Bible studies and messages, two special highlights of the conference were the joyous congregational singing led by Rev. G.W. Busse20 and the strong bond of family fellowship experienced as Christians shared the things of the Lord with each other.21 The Committee knew assuredly that the Deeper Life Conference must become an annual event.22
With a few slight modifications, the general structure for that 1939 Deeper Life Conference became the pattern for succeeding years. In 1940, sessions included “Revelation: Messages to the Seven Churches,” “Practical Discussion of Christian Life Problems,” and a “Mission Hour” in addition to “Studies on the Deeper Life” and the evangelistic services.23 As evidence of the great spiritual needs that the conference was meeting, registration increased that year to 351.24 The next year, 1941, registration grew slightly to 368.25 A 6:30 PM Galilean (lakeside) service was added to the Sunday schedule26 and a conference theme was selected for the first time: “And the nations shall know that I am Jehovah . . . when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes (Ezekiel 36:23).27 In 1942, registration increased again, this time to 405.28 Sessions included, “Behold, I Stand,” “Men of God on Their Knees,” “Studies on the Tabernacle,” and “Studies on Missions,“29 the latter being especially used of God to impress on the attendees the role of missions in the deeper Christian life.30
But lists and statistics alone cannot do justice to describing the thrill of attending a Deeper Life Conference on Medicine Lake. For the sake of the reader, perhaps it would be most effective to recreate one week of camp here. Let’s “visit” the Fifth Annual Lutheran Deeper Life Conference which was held at Mission Farms from Monday, July 19, through Sunday, July 25, 1943.31 The week was one of perfect weather for a Minnesota camp with temperatures averaging in the mid 80’s and only a sprinkle of rain one day. Although conference sessions had already begun, “Monday morning and afternoon saw the usual bustle . . . of opening day, with loaded buses and cars arriving, a continual waiting line standing at the registration desk, and old friends exchanging enthusiastic greetings.” From Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin came many campers. Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Montana, and Washington were also represented. Twenty-nine pastors were registered besides the conference speakers. At 578 people, registration was up more than 40 percent from the previous year. Many others commuted from the nearby vicinity to attend the sessions.
In the Youth Memorial Chapel where sessions were held, a banner displaying the camp theme “Fight The Good Fight Of Faith” was hung high above the speakers’ platform. For the first session of each day at 9:00 AM, a Bible study in the book of Acts was given by Rev. L.C. Masted (who had joined the Evangelistic Committee in November 1941). Let’s enter the Chapel now and listen to some portions of Rev. Masted’s morning studies.
“For a personal Pentecost, we must have a clean heart from every known sin, an implicit confidence in the blood to cleanse us from all sin, a constant attitude or atmosphere of fellowship with God in prayer and the Word, and a faith in the promises found in the Word.”
“The apostles preached the Gospel, not themselves. The apostles did not preach against politics, against Roman corruption, or along any lines other than the Gospel. Paul’s preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom but in power. The Spirit of God must illuminate the Word of God to beget life. When we proclaim the Word, let us come from the presence of the Almighty.”
“The apostles wherever they went sought to find and work with the fellowship of believers. The fellowship of believers gives encouragement, teaches Christians to work together, and brings out the individual gifts of the Spirit. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit always comes upon a fellowship. It is through the whole body of Christ that the job of world evangelization will be completed.”
“Paul served God in his spirit by praying for the church. We are to be workers together with God in prayer. Prayer is a tremendous work. It is laboring fervently for others. Prayer is letting the Spirit of supplication groan through you. Prayer is putting yourself in the other fellow’s place so that you feel for him as for your own self.”
“When you have first given yourself to the Lord, you will find it a delight to give your things to the Lord. One of the fountainheads of the great power in the early church was the utter abandonment of the Christians. Their spirit was one of recklessness. They did not care about money, about clothing, about nice homes. They were glad to be pressed on every side, straitened, pursued, smitten down, in order that Jesus might be manifested in their body. Should we find it hard to pay any price to go to the ends of the earth for Jesus?”
“A witness is one who has been there, who has seen and experienced something. The reason we don’t have more witnesses is that folks have nothing to witness about. Wherever the early Christians witnessed, something happened - either a revival or a revolution or both. When the Spirit works in the whole body of believers, their witness becomes a fire which cannot be stopped.”
Conference sessions were interspersed with congregational singing led by Rev. W.E. Klawitter. Between sessions, conference attendees might visit the separate Chapel display room which contained items for sale by the Lutheran Colportage Service and the Lutheran World Crusade Book Store. The Colportage Service specialized in tracts, mottoes, and booklets. Tracts were of all varieties: those regarding salvation, those with helps for Christians, and those for members of the armed forces. In addition to a good selection of Christian books, the Crusade Book Store offered items such as plaques and stationary.
While the adults were meeting in the Chapel auditorium each morning from 9:00 until noon, Mrs. Evald Conrad held a special conference in the Chapel basement for about 50 children between the ages of two and fourteen. Of course she was assisted by several others. Some of the highlights from the children’s conference were a message on Chinese missions, a flannel-graph talk about “Joseph’s Dreams,” Bible stories listened to on the phonograph, a discussion about everyday living with Jesus, and several movies about missions work. There were also arts and crafts as well as a special “Surprise Hour” for the children each evening from 6:45 until 7:15. Although the high school youth were to attend the adult sessions each day, special sessions were arranged for the high school boys at 10:00 AM in the Boys’ Lodge and for the high school girls at 1:00 PM on top of the boat house. The high school conference that became so standard in future years was not part of the program in 1943.
Let’s head back to the Chapel again for another morning Bible study. We don’t have time or space to report on all of the morning messages given by men such as Evangelist Enoch Scotvold or Mr. Paul Lindell, but let’s listen in to this series of messages from II Timothy given by Rev. J.O. Gisslequist in accord with the camp theme, “Fight The Good Fight Of Faith.”
“The apostasy of Timothy’s day demanded good soldiers. In like manner, the apostasy of our day demands good soldiers.”
“A good soldier shows his worth in battle, not in parade. A soldier must endure. We will never have success in God’s kingdom at home or abroad until we have Christian soldiers who know how to endure. The secret of endurance is to live with Jesus. When a person can say it is heaven to be where Jesus is, then he is a good soldier whom God can send anywhere.”
“God has what it takes to make good soldiers out of you and me. The first thing it takes to be a good soldier is to be saved - and know it. The assurance of salvation is no commodity that comes to an individual once and for all. That individual has the assurance of salvation who continually drinks of the wells of salvation.”
“Our training as God’s children continues until we see Him face to face. God chastens us in order that we may become partakers of His holiness. We are called to a holy calling - called to show forth the glory of God. You really begin to live when the Lord has His way in your life. When the call of God comes to you, you will see your sin - the desperately wicked heart you have. If you want to know life in its fullness, you have to face God’s holy calling. When we are hid in Christ, the house we live in is perfect, but the perfecting work is never finished until we see Him in glory.”
“God has what it takes to save us, to sanctify us, and to accomplish his purpose for the world through us. God has provided no other way except through Jesus. It is through the gospel that sinners are saved, saints sanctified, and the world evangelized.”
At 12:00 noon, morning sessions ended and dinner was served in the dining room. Dinner, as well as breakfast and supper, were prepared and served each day by dozens of Mission Farms cooks and waitresses. Other camp employees included nine maids who cleaned buildings, a maintenance “handy man,” and a night watchman. During the afternoon recreation time, two lifeguards and a boatman assisted those campers who were enjoying the lake. Quiet hours were observed on certain parts of the grounds between 1:00 and 3:00 PM. Elsewhere, ball games and other sporting events were organized. A dean of men and a dean of women appointed by the Evangelistic Committee made sure that the few general camp guidelines were followed throughout the day.
At 4:30 PM each day, right before supper, a missions emphasis hour was held during which missionaries and pastors addressed regions such as China, Africa, Mexico, Bolivia, and South America in general. The purpose of these talks was twofold: to describe the missions work in those foreign countries and to exhort the participation of every Christian in such work, especially by going to the foreign field if God were so to lead. Again, let’s listen in on a few excerpts in order to gather the flow of these sessions.
“The trouble with the ________’s is not their drunkenness, their religious hypocrisy, or their fightings and wickedness. Their trouble is that they do not have Jesus. The need is for shepherds to point them to Him.”
“Before the revival in ________, the missionaries had banded themselves together to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Those who had prayed thus were tested and tried, and the revival came in God’s time.”
“Loving self and thinking of self is our blackest sin. If we were not so selfish, it would not be so hard for the Lord Jesus Christ to give us His compassion for those who have never heard of the Bread of Life when we have our tables full.”
“It’s wonderful to be in extremity - then God has to do it all. When God calls us, we have to learn to die in order to bear fruit.”
“Every person is as definitely called to be a world missionary as those who go abroad. The responsibility and joy of it are the same to all.”
“We have to hurry in the work of world-evangelization. God’s emphasis isn’t on having the necessary talents for missionary work. Are you willing to go?”
Clearly, the thrust of a Deeper Life Conference was to exhort and encourage Christians forward in their walks with Christ. In previous years, this emphasis had been diverted from slightly in the evening messages by making them evangelistic appeals directed entirely towards the unsaved. But in retrospect, the Committee felt that this had not been satisfactory in meeting the needs of all present. Rather, they decided, “For the evening services . . . there should be a real, expository, deeper life message. With such a message there can [still] be frequent appeals and challenges to the unsaved.” Over the years, this approach proved to strengthen the Christians mightily while still resulting in many conversions. To see this approach in action, let’s join the others back at Mission Farms now for the 8:00 PM evangelistic services with Rev. Evald Conrad speaking on the theme, “What Saith the Spirit to the Churches,” from Revelation 2 and 3.
“Do we love the Lord, His Word, His people? When our heart is wrong, we are in a critical condition. Search your hearts to see whether you have lost your first love.”
“The church at Smyrna was a suffering church. They lived under persecution. We seek comfort but Jesus seeks men who will gladly go to death for Him. I’m afraid that there are many who call themselves Christians who have many other bridegrooms and husbands besides Jesus. Be faithful to the person of Jesus, to His Word, to your particular commission, even unto death.”
“The word ‘Pergamum’ means marriage to the world. The church is out on the sea like a ship, throwing out the lifeline and drawing in those who are drowning, but it is a tragedy when the ocean gets into the ship. God has only one cure for sin: that is repentance. Repentance means more than a few tears. It means housecleaning. God’s Word must either work in my heart now and work repentance in me, or else it will someday make war with me.”
“When Jesus looks at us, He can see through us. We can hide nothing from Him. He has eyes as a flaming fire. One of the most important things in the Christian life is to walk uprightly before the Lord, to hide nothing from Him.”
“There is no place where there should be more life than in a church, yet here [Sardis] there is a dead church. What can be sadder than to have a reputation of being living and to be dead? Dead folks are deceived because they go through all the motions of life and because they have a reputation of being Christian. Jesus is portrayed here as one who can meet the need of even a dead church. Sardis had its ‘magnificent minority’ that had never defiled their garments. If you take a real stand for God, you will be in the minority.”
“Jesus has the key, the authority to open doors. When you go about entering into the door He opens up to you, opposition will be stirred up but no one can shut the door when Jesus has opened it. You can enter right in and conquer through Him. The tragedy of the ages is that again and again Jesus has opened up the door to service and the church has failed to enter in. I believe that after this war [World War II] God will give us one more chance to get the world evangelized. What will we do with that open door?”
Undoubtedly, many campers were still meditating on these and other stirring messages of the day when the bell rang at 10:45 PM each night as a reminder for lights out at 11:00 PM.
Many were the lives that were powerfully affected by the Spirit of God through these Deeper Life Conferences. Some became Christians for the first time; many were revived; countless were challenged and encouraged onto greater heights with Christ. Pastors and Christian leaders who were greatly affected by the conferences passed on the tremendous blessings to their congregations throughout the year.32 So great became the demand for deeper life teaching that conference attendance grew by enormous percentages until the director of Mission Farms reported in 1948 that it was “taxing the capacity of the grounds.”33 Every year, individual testimonies abounded.
“We were assured of our salvation and Jesus became very real to us.”34
“I experienced what it meant to be ‘delivered from the bondage of corruption into the
liberty of the glory of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21).”35
“Through the searching, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled messages . . . there came a surging
uplift that has not left me since, and which has culminated . . . in a real and
definite release from the discouragement and despondency that had taken me
“There was such joy in being with those who are of the household of faith that to me it
was a mountaintop experience. The night of the second day there I had such a joy
in my heart that words cannot express.”37
“Never before have we seen the Holy Spirit work so manifestly in a large group. Never
have we seen Lutherans so quick to pray and to testify of their joy in the Lord.”38
What was it that stirred the Deeper Life Conference attendees so greatly? It was the experiencing of the very thing which they had come to seek: a deeper life and fellowship with Christ. It was the message that, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write [or proclaim] to you that your joy may be full.” (I John 1:3b-4 NKJV) Great was the joy of many as another year’s Deeper Life Conference concluded and they returned to their homes. For them, it was the beginning of a deeper and richer fellowship with Christ which didn’t fade as the years passed. Said one camper, after having pondered for years about what was the happiest moment of her life, “I finally knew what day I would want to repeat: a warm, sunny Minnesota summer day . . . during a morning Bible session with the incredible singing. That is as close to heaven as I have ever experienced.”39 It seemed like heaven because Christ was present there. And that was the great secret of the Deeper Life Conference.
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