Chapter 10 - God Gave The Increase
Series: Our Fathers Saw His Mighty Works
As World War II entered what proved to be its final months, the invisible hand of One who knew the future propelled the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee mightily forward into a vast expansion of their program. It was a time of urgent preparation and reorganization for what the Committee believed would soon be their greatest years of usefulness. On the surface, their decisions and organizational efforts might have appeared to be only the actions of men. But though some planted and others watered, the years of revival which followed made it only possible to conclude that “God gave the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:6 NKJV)
The first order of business in this mighty organizational expansion was the selection of a new name which better defined the Committee‘s purpose and vision. Besides the unwieldiness of their current name, there were also criticisms of it. “Committee” implied that they were closed to any outside participation while “Inter-Synodical” gave the opposite impression that they were sponsored by all of the various synods.1 “Lutheran” and “Evangelistic” were still very fitting words to describe their purpose, but what other word could be added to more boldly declare their vision? It was Paul Lindell who thought of it first - the word “Movement.”2 When he told it to Rev. Evald Conrad, the two of them were so excited that they drove over 200 miles to share it with fellow Committee member and Trinity Church associate Rev. Maynard Force who was away on a camping trip. Yes, “Movement” did seem perfect. It wasn’t so much an organization which they were promoting but a movement of which they were a part - a mighty forward movement of God’s Spirit throughout the Lutheran Church. And so it was that at their October 6, 1944 meeting, the Committee unanimously agreed upon the name which was destined to become a household phrase to so many Midwesterners: the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement.3
But a new name, of course, was only the beginning. The crucial element in this mighty organizational expansion would be the establishment of “a definite program for the work”4 As the Committee embarked on this most consequential task, they began first to see clearly that the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement “must become more than a mere sideline of [their] activities as individuals.” Rather, it “must command an absolute priority and dedication on the part of each one of [them].” It was a special blessing from God, they felt, to labor not as individuals but as representatives of the whole movement and thereby bring honor to the body of Christ.5 With this in place as a general guideline, the Committee began working out the specifics of their program. Within the first few days of 1945, they had developed a lofty list which included the following:6
To promote and employ evangelists,
To enlarge the program of evangelistic and Bible Conferences,
To operate Christian book stores,
To promote Lutheran radio evangelism,
To publish a magazine voicing the vision and development of the LEM.
Regardless of any similar evangelistic programs that the Lutheran synods themselves might undertake, the Committee believed that “God has given us a job to do as a free movement and we will never waver from the performance of it.” “Even if revival sweeps the church, there is all the more need for free movements . . . .” Because “the true church is much larger than the organized church, its activities must also overflow and be more than the activities of the organized church.”7 By the grace of God, each of the Committee’s above-stated visions and more were to become realities within the next several years.
It wasn’t long before the Committee began putting concrete actions behind their new visions. On March 6, 1945, they officially incorporated themselves as the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement.8 Just one month previously they had voted unanimously to call Rev. J.O. Gisselquist as full-time traveling evangelist for the LEM.9 Gisselquist had accepted, resigning his position as evangelist for the Hauge Lutheran Innermission Federation in order to do so.10 Changes such as these were none too soon in coming for the LEM. Already in November of 1944, a group of likeminded Christians in the Pacific Northwest had organized themselves into a regional committee of the LEM for the purpose of sponsoring numerous Bible and evangelistic conferences in that area.11 In early 1946, a similar regional committee was organized as an arm of the LEM in the Chicago area.12
During those earliest months of expansion efforts by the LEM Executive Committee, the vision to which they devoted the greatest percentage of their energy was the beginning of a monthly magazine. They had become convinced that they “need[ed] a voice for the whole movement,”13 a means by which they could put down in writing the same messages spoken at their conferences.14 As their plans for such a magazine took shape, six specific purposes for it became clear in their minds:15
To revive Christians and help them in their walks with God,
To reach out to the lost with the saving gospel,
To promote world missions,
To preach clearly the doctrines of the Lutheran church,
To be a means of fellowship for likeminded evangelistic Lutherans,
To voice the vision, life, and development of the LEM.
The Committee’s magazine plans progressed quickly. By February of 1945, Rev. Conrad had accepted the editorship of the prospective magazine and had begun to secure a staff and office location.16 The name chosen for the new publication was Evangelize. Once again it was Paul Lindell who suggested the name.17 After several months of tremendously intensive work, the first issue was ready for release by May of 1945. It contained sixteen pages including the front and back covers. Its attractive layout was complemented by black and white photographs throughout. Its content was exhortational, devotional, and informative. Feature items during 1945, which remained relatively unaltered for some years, included editorials containing LEM news and spiritual encouragement, reports and messages from previous Mid-Winter and Deeper Life Conferences, a “Sermon of the Month,” writings by great evangelical leaders of the past, an “Evangelism Abroad” section containing missions news, an “Evangelism at Home” section containing LEM Bible Conference reports and other evangelical newsworthy items, a schedule of upcoming LEM conferences, a schedule of Lutheran evangelists both LEM and otherwise, advertisements for Mid-Winter and Deeper Life, and numerous other exhortational and devotional articles by leaders and friends of the LEM. New features added in following years included “The Readers Write” (letters to the editor) and “Give Heed to Reading” (Christian book reviews). As circulation increased, the staff of Evangelize encouraged readers to contribute articles, testimonies, comments, and news items of their own.18
In order to promote their new and unheard-of publication, the Committee printed 20,000 copies of the first issue and sent it to all Lutheran pastors in the United States,19 to all Lutheran educational institutions in the United States and Canada,20 to the 7,500 names on the LEM’s mailing list, and to churches that had shown an interest in the work of the LEM.21 The immediate response to Evangelize was quite encouraging. From all over the U.S. came support, particularly from pastors of every synod.22 An Augustana pastor from Minneapolis wrote, “After looking over Evangelize . . . it does not take me long to decide that I cannot afford to be without it.” From New York, a Missouri Synod pastor reported, “Your very fine magazine . . . came to my desk yesterday. I have taken time to read it entirely this morning . . . .” In Wisconsin, an ALC pastor rejoiced, “This is something for which I have waited and longed for many years.” And from Ohio, a ULCA pastor requested, “If you could send me about fifty copies, I will distribute them
. . . in our homes.”23 One month after the first issue of Evangelize had been sent out, about 1,400 subscriptions had been received and more were coming in daily.24 By July, some were in attendance at the Deeper Life Conference as a result of having learned about the LEM through Evangelize.25 A conversion resulting from Rev. Maynard Force’s article on “Assurance” was even reported. By January of 1946, the subscription list had reached about 5,000.26 Three years after its initial appearance, Evangelize had an estimated 20,000 readers.27
Before the summer of 1945 had ended, the LEM Executive Committee had seen another of their visions fulfilled: that of operating Christian bookstores. Actually, this involved taking over a work which they themselves had helped to start a few years previously. From the days of their earliest Bible Conferences, the Committee had set up a book table so that conference attendees could take home with them more of the same sort of spiritual help and refreshment that they had received through the spoken messages.28 In order to service these book tables, then Committee secretary Bernice Wold had established a small book supply headquarters. After a time, this book work was turned over to Paul Lindell’s Lutheran World Crusade missions agency which both continued the conference book tables and expanded the home store. In the early 1940’s, a young missionary candidate whom health precluded from foreign service instead felt led of God to open a Christian bookstore in her home town as a missions work under the auspices of the Crusade. This new venture proved to be so successful that within a few years the Crusade was operating three branch bookstores in Viroqua, La Crosse, and Racine, Wisconsin in addition to their main store in Minneapolis.29 The benefits were definitely missionary in character. Gospel literature was disseminated throughout communities, bookstore workers were given open doors to witness in local churches and Christian groups, and opportunities for further evangelistic activity in those communities were created.30 In July of 1945, as the Lutheran World Crusade was preparing to merge with the World Mission Prayer League,31 they transferred their bookstore work back to the LEM32 with the understanding that the same store personnel would remain in their respective positions.33 One year later, the LEM expanded the ministry further by opening stores in Butte, Montana34 and Jamestown, New York.35 With the retrospect of a few more years, however, the LEM Executive Committee decided that their bookstore ministry might be most effective if they focused more attention on the main store in Minneapolis. Thus, by late 1949, they had either closed or sold the Viroqua, La Crosse, and Jamestown stores.36 Meanwhile, their Minneapolis store had taken over a handsomely remodeled 20 foot by 40 foot space37 and boasted such a well-stocked supply of Bibles, books, plaques, records, and cards as to be declared “one of the finest Christian literature supply centers” of its day.38
Perhaps the most open-ended and difficult to fulfill of all the LEM Executive Committee’s visions was the expansion of evangelistic and Bible Conferences. Yet this vision was at the very core of the LEM’s existence. As the fall of 1945 approached, the Committee began directing more of their attention towards this matter. It was their desire that, apart from merely increasing the number of conferences, the conferences should be located in “strategic centers” across the northern United States.39 This would be more effective than numerous small conferences so localized that they compromised each other in their region of influence. It was also the Committee’s goal that each conference be in a strong Lutheran region and be backed logistically and spiritually by a local committee of both pastors and laymen.40 These things would ensure a conference’s continuance in future years. If a certain locale was desirous of a conference but was too small to justify a full-scale three-speaker Bible Conference, the Committee offered a two-speaker “Evangelistic Mission” instead. During 1946, the LEM sponsored two- and three-speaker conferences in the following 21 locations: Bemidji, Clearbrook, Eagle Bend, Elmore, Fertile, Halstad, Hendricks, McIntosh, and Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Newark, Ottowa, and Rock Island, Illinois; Eagle Grove and Thompson, Iowa; Jamestown, New York; Racine, Wisconsin; Newman Grove, Nebraska; Butte, Montana; Bottineau, North Dakota; and Seattle, Washington.41 Two years later, the number of conferences remained the same but the following third of the locations were newer: Bagley, Clarissa, Hendrum, and Jasper, Minnesota; Minot and Sheyenne, North Dakota; and Grant, Iowa.42 Obviously, many of these places were not strategic U.S. population centers, but they were nevertheless strategic to rural Midwest Lutheranism. Even more strategic than their locations was the regional spiritual hunger great enough to support an eight-day conference with five to seven hours of heavy teaching and preaching each day.
By early 1946, the LEM’s tremendous expansion had necessitated the renting of 625 square feet of office space as a center for the work, a location for the bookstore, and a meeting place for supporters.43 Two rooms on the sixth floor of the Andrus Building at Fifth Street and Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis served as the LEM’s headquarters for the next three years. By 1949, further growth of the work brought about a move to 1300 square feet in the basement of the Hospitality House Building at Ninth Street and Hennepin Avenue.44 About 300 friends overflowed an opening day service there45 and helped to dedicate what proved to be the LEM’s headquarters for the next 25 years.
As significant as were all of these expansion efforts by the LEM Executive Committee, they were fairly minor compared to the bold move that the Committee made next. Late in 1944, the Committee had observed that, “There are many men whom the Lord has definitely made a part of the Movement who should have an official part in the work too.”46 One year later, with this in mind, the Committee had appointed 22 pastors and laymen from Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, New York, Washington, and California to serve as representatives of and consultants to the LEM in their respective regions.47 Yet the Committee itself had retained ultimate power to determine all policies.48 Within a few months, however, the Committee had still not escaped the feeling that the Holy Spirit was prompting them even further down this path.49 It was clear that during the early years, when there were “very few who had committed themselves to the vision of the Movement,”50 the work would have dissipated without the Committee acting “as sort of a ‘closed corporation.’”51 But now, in view of the large number of LEM supporters and partners around the country, the Committee felt strongly compelled by God to turn over all authority for planning and decision making to a larger, nationally representative body.52 And so, during the Deeper Life Conference of 1946, they obediently stepped out in faith by holding a public business meeting in which twelve pastors (many of them the current Executive Committee members) and twelve laymen from a ballot of about 50 candidates were elected to an LEM National Board.53 It was decided that the new National Board would meet twice annually at the Deeper Life and Midwinter Conferences and that an Executive Committee would continue to function but would be formed of National Board members living near the Minneapolis area to allow for more frequent meetings.54 Over the next few years, this change brought many new but equally qualified members onto the Executive Committee such as Rev. Robert G. Hovland, Rev. Arthur H. Grimstad, Rev. Maynard G. Halvorson, Rev. Arnold E. Windahl, Rev. Charles A. Crouch, Rev. Everald H. Strom, and even laymen like Olaf M. Twedt and Arvid Peterson.55
The logical and necessary capstone on this flurry of post World War II expansion and reorganization by the LEM was their hiring of a full-time director. And who could be better suited for this position than one of their earliest and most active members whose people skills were unparalleled and whose enthusiasm for things of the Lord seemed limitless? In January 1948, Rev. Evald J. Conrad was called to be the full-time director of the LEM by a unanimous vote of the National Board.56 After much prayer and waiting on the Lord, Conrad felt convinced that he should resign his Minneapolis pastorate of twenty years and accept the call.57 In addition to his editorship of Evangelize and his numerous speaking engagements, his new duties were to include planning the many conferences of the LEM.58 On the afternoon of Sunday, July 25, during the 1948 Deeper Life Conference, Conrad was installed in his new position and delivered a most stirring and motivational message on Psalm 46 from which the following is an excerpt.
“. . . The psalmist describes and pictures the days of trouble the world is facing.”
“It is in days like these that God has raised up the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement to be a blessing and a spiritual power.”
“There is one verse in this psalm which I feel gives God’s special call and ministry for us, namely verse 4: ‘There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of
God . . . .’”
“God has called us to be one of the streams flowing in the midst of the city of God. We believe the city of God refers to the people of God, the Church of Christ, the fellowship of saints. Today we are thinking in particular of our beloved Lutheran church. God has called us to be a blessing in the midst of our church.”59
Along with Conrad’s arrival as director came the fulfillment of another of the LEM Executive Committee’s visions: the sponsorship of a radio program. Since 1933, Rev. Conrad had been heard weekly over Trinity Lutheran Church’s “The Voice of Lutheran Evangelism,”60 originally called “The Little Homelike Church.” When Conrad took the LEM directorship, his church graciously offered to transfer the radio program to the LEM, and the National Board accepted.61 Keeping the same name, the half-hour Sunday afternoon program of Christian music and message began airing under LEM sponsorship during the fall of 1948.62 The sermon and musical numbers were pre-recorded on Monday evenings in front of an audience of LEM friends.63 A 32-voice radio choir was organized one year later.64 When broadcasting station WDGY of Minneapolis went to 50,000 watts late in 1949,65 “The Voice of Lutheran Evangelism” could be heard at least 250 miles away.66
It is important to note that all of this growth of the LEM did not take place within an isolated Lutheran context. Although the LEM’s particular area of ministry was the Lutheran church, its leaders believed strongly in true Christian unity regardless of denomination. One prime example of this was their support of the National Association of Evangelicals. In 1944 when LEM delegates were first sent to an NAE annual convention, they were impressed by the practical and thorough treatment of evangelism.67 One year later, the LEM Executive Committee invited (albeit unsuccessfully) Congregational pastor and former NAE president Harold J. Ockenga to speak at the Midwinter Conference, citing his “great usefulness to the church . . . as a spokesman for evangelical Christianity.”68 Many favorable reports about the NAE were published in Evangelize. In one such report authorized by the LEM National Board in 1948,69 Rev. J.O. Gisselquist referred to the NAE as “a movement and a fellowship to which we belong as evangelical Lutheran Christians. It . . . does not jeopardize denominational convictions . . . There is full liberty and yet a unity of Spirit . . . .”70
As the LEM expanded so tremendously, it’s leaders also quickly recognized the necessity of formulating a clear doctrinal statement.71 On paper, this was kept surprisingly short: “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative word of God. We adhere unreservedly to the doctrines and teachings of the Lutheran church as set forth in the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism.”72 In practice, the LEM’s doctrine was perhaps best embodied by the 1946 Midwinter Evangelistic Conference whose theme was “The Essentials of Evangelical Christianity” and whose major sessions were as follows.73
Marks of Evangelical Christianity
1. Based on Scripture
2. Recognizes Human Sinfulness
3. Exalts Christ and His Atonement
4. Exalts the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit
Fruits of Evangelical Christianity
1. Emphasis on Personal Salvation
2. Burning Desire for Salvation of Others
3. Personal Testimony and Witnessing
4. Christian Fellowship and Prayer Meetings
Present-Day Threats to Evangelical Christianity
2. Humanism and the Social Gospel
These twelve titles encompassed many of the spiritual truths which the LEM’s leaders held dearest. To them, “the distinctiveness of Lutheran evangelism” was “dealing thoroughly and honestly with all sin and coming through to a real freedom in Christ.”74 Whereas they saw many people “living in false assurance” and many others who thought “that they [were] saved but only lack[ed] assurance,” the LEM’s leaders held the bold and often-attacked position “that those who do not have assurance are lost.”75 They maintained “that if a man is saved, he knows it . . . It is the Scriptural teaching that if a man is saved, he has the witness of the Spirit in his heart.”76 True Christians, according to Philippians 3:3, were those who worshiped and served by the Spirit of God, boasted only in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.77 They found “in the cross the power of God not only over the guilt of sin, but also over the reign and rule of sin in their lives.”78 Whenever two or more of these Christians came together to share their thoughts and experiences about the things of God, that was fellowship.79 To the LEM’s leaders, one of the most dangerous threats to true Christianity was formalism which “disregard[ed] the work of regeneration,” was “more concerned with the outward appearance of things,” “appear[ed] to be a life-giving institution when it [was] not, and as such [had] a cosmopolitan appeal . . . .”80 What was the great secret to rescuing the lost out of any condition be it formalism or atheism? It was giving the Holy Spirit “His rightful place in evangelism” so that He might do “such a deep and thorough work in the hearts of men through the Word of God that there [was] no need for using human pressure to get people to make a decision for Christ.” Rather, the “lost, condemned, convicted sinner [would] come trembling to God’s servant asking for help.“81
Yes, it was the Holy Spirit alone who could grant a harvest of souls in evangelism. It was not any human effort that could do so. In fact, in all facets of the LEM’s ministry, whether preaching the Deeper Life message to Christians or stirring Christian leaders towards evangelism, it was only the Spirit’s moving within human hearts that produced any true results. And it was this same Spirit of God who directed and blessed the mighty reorganization and expansion efforts of the LEM in preparation for the years of revival which were to follow. Truly, in all aspects of the LEM‘s work, it was God who gave the increase.
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