Chapter 13 - All The City Was Moved
Series: Our Fathers Saw His Mighty Works
During the first eight months of 1949, the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement had witnessed in and around their areas of ministry mightier and more regular stirrings of God’s Spirit than had occurred for decades in the United States. Their leaders were active participants in a city-wide ministerial group under whose sponsorship a revival movement with national implications had begun in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. And the outbreaks of revival which the LEM was seeing and hearing about showed no signs of decreasing. Early in December 1949 came news from the ELC church in Longview, Washington, of “showers of blessing” during Enoch Scotvold’s evangelistic meetings there.1 Many Christians rededicated their lives to a closer walk with God; and ten younger folks, mostly married couples, received Christ as Savior and gave clear public testimonies. Just hours before the final service, a group knelt at the altar to pray for the salvation of several people by name; and that evening, three of those prayed for surrendered to Christ. The next week, a Lutheran pastor in the small town of Palisade, Minnesota, reported that a half-year of steady conversions had culminated in the salvation of twenty people during five nights of special meetings preached by Rev. Joseph Stump.2
Such happenings during the latter part of 1949 were not limited to the LEM’s region of influence or to just Lutheran churches, nor were they occurring in only the small towns. In New York City, multi-thousands flocked nightly to St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church to hear Anglican evangelist Bryan Green. On one night alone, nearly 200 people made professions of faith in Christ.3 For three weeks in Syracuse, New York, Dr. Harold Ockenga preached to 6,000 on Sundays and 2,000 on weeknights in an evangelistic campaign sponsored by 43 churches.4 By “the conclusion, there were 312 conversions and 202 people had confessed sin and taken the step of reconsecration . . . .” Additionally, several area churches saw remarkable responses from 20 to 30 people apiece, either during pre-campaign preparation or during the campaign itself. The Christ for America organization reported that 100,000 people were converted during 1949.5 But none of these items made national headlines. Then came an incredible breakthrough in Los Angeles.
Revival Becomes National News
The relatively unknown Youth For Christ evangelist who had been so impacted by Dr. J. Edwin Orr’s evening messages at the 1949 Forest Home College Briefing Conference was a young man named Billy Graham. And testifying that the Holy Spirit had filled and empowered him late one night at that summer conference, he began an evangelistic campaign in Los Angeles on September 25, 1949.6 Sponsored by a committee of area churches and upheld by countless prayer meetings, the services were held in a 6,000-seat big-top tent. For several weeks, Graham preached repentance and the filling of the Spirit to Christians with over 1,000 responding on one night alone. Several hundred were saved also, but there seemed to be no unusual stirring until near the end of the scheduled three weeks. On the scheduled closing night, a regional radio celebrity - a notorious gambler, drinker, and sinner named Stuart Hamblen - was in the audience with his wife. Under intense conviction of sin, he angrily stormed out in the middle of the sermon and went to the bar but was unable to alleviate his soul‘s torment. Finally in the middle of the night, he called Graham at his hotel room. There at 5:00 AM, Hamblen found peace with God. On his radio program the next day, he announced his conversion. The effect was sensational. Attendance at the big tent increased phenomenally, and the campaign was extended.
Graham was preaching in the power of God and relying on the authority of Scripture, often tying it to current events.
“You have a problem tonight of sin. You say, ‘I’m not troubled with sin.’ Then you are the only one in the world outside of Christ who is not troubled with sin, because the Bible says, ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ . . . the only One that has the answer is the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.”7
By the end of the fourth week, the local and national press had picked up on the unusual happenings in the big tent and reports of the revival became headline news across the country. The tent was enlarged to seat 3,000 more and still the crowds overflowed. Two to three hundred responded to the invitation nightly. The conversions of a local TV personality, a gangster wire-tapper, and a World War II hero added to the sensation. “So deep was the moving of the Holy Spirit that at times Graham did not have to preach. After some of the testimonies from the converts all he had to do was give the invitation.”8 The revival was the talk of all Los Angeles in taxicabs, restaurants, and stores. Streetcars and buses were often filled with hymn singing. When the campaign finally concluded after eight weeks, the committee reported that 3,000 had received Christ for the first time and another 3,000 backsliders had been restored.
Having recently relocated to Los Angeles, LEM National Board member Rev. Theodore Hax was able to give Evangelize readers a firsthand account of the major cause underlying what had just transpired. Said Hax,
“We feel that the success of the Billy Graham meetings may be traced in no small measure to the prayers of many Bible-believing Christians. Perhaps it would be unfair to single out any particular group but we know of a prayer group of ministers from many denominations which began monthly all-day prayer meetings about ten years ago and continue to the present. We have attended some of these prayer meetings and the burden has been for spiritual revival for this wicked city.”9
Graham’s next meetings began five weeks later in Boston, an unlikely place for revival considering its small Protestant population.10 He had been invited to Park Street Church by its pastor Dr. Harold Ockenga who had also planned a special New Year’s Eve service in the 6,000-seat Mechanic’s Hall. In unprecedented fashion, the Mechanics Hall service was jammed without standing room for the last four hours of 1949, and 150 accepted Christ as Savior. Spontaneously, Ockenga announced another meeting at the Hall the next afternoon at which 150 more received Christ. Boston newspapers began giving the revival front-page coverage. On Monday January 2, 1950, when Boston celebrated New Year’s Day, the 2,000-seat Park Street Church overflowed, 7,000 were turned away, and over 1,000 stood in the street singing hymns in pouring rain. For the next two weeks, either Mechanics Hall or the 3,400-seat Opera House were rented for nightly services and were often filled to standing room only. After one week, a total of 900 people had professed conversion. Even the announcement of Dr. Walter Maier’s unexpected death from a heart attack “moved many to repentance.”11 On Friday of the second week, crowds seeking admittance to the already packed Mechanics Hall pounded on the doors until it sounded like thunder inside. That night approximately 400 came forward. The whole city surged with interest in religion.12 A reporter told Graham that the press couldn’t understand what they were seeing. “Pastors all over the Boston area reported improved church attendance and conversions.”13 A pastor who had seen no conversions for two years reported 45 converts after his morning sermon on Sunday the 15th. A discouraged pastor who had resigned on January 1 withdrew his resignation two weeks later to care for the 27 new Christians in his church. At the closing meeting on Sunday January 16, sixteen thousand from across New England jammed the Boston Garden, 2,500 stood in the lobby, and 10,000 were left outside. Graham preached on Noah and the Ark. “When the . . . rain started and the water rose,” “thousands came, pounding at the door of the Ark, begging Noah to let them come in and be saved.” “. . . The door [is] open for you tonight.” “. . . Come into the Ark now.”14 At the invitation, over 1,200 of all ages streamed forward bringing the total number of conversions to 3,000 in 18 days.
Younger generations today who know Billy Graham for his tremendous evangelistic career which spanned the second half of the 20th Century may be tempted to read the previous paragraphs as a brief biography of Graham’s rise to success rather than as a story of God’s Spirit moving in fresh revival power. J. Edwin Orr - who was one of the chief revival historians of all time, a personal friend of Graham’s, and an eyewitness to what happened in Los Angeles - was in a better position than most for analyzing the situation. Over thirty years later, his conclusion was that “Graham arose in the 1949 Revival as its chief evangelistic harvester, a product of the movement of the Spirit . . . .”15 Although Graham had been involved in large-scale evangelistic work for a number of years already and had prophesied a spectacular outcome for Los Angeles, even he himself was taken aback by what happened. At the height of the Los Angeles movement, he excitedly told Armin Gesswein by phone that he didn’t fully understand what was happening.16 Clearly, a Supernatural Force beyond Graham’s power had taken control.
On February 2, 1950, Dr. Harold Ockenga was in Minneapolis to speak to a ministerial group of over 100 at noon and to a revival rally that evening which overflowed First Covenant Church. The leaders of the LEM who attended were only a few of those deeply stirred by his account of the Boston revival the previous month.17 Ockenga titled his noon message, “The Mid-Century Church,” and added the faith-inspiring subtitle, “1950. The Year of Revival.”18 Springboarding from Habakkuk 3:2, Ockenga described the similarities between the prophet’s day and the United States in 1950. The evil, sin, and corruption of the nation had as yet not been judged by God, but impending doom impelled God’s people to plead with Him for revival mercies and the withholding of wrath. A review of the first half of the 20th Century was a deplorable display of the criticism of Scripture, blatant unbelief in Christ‘s salvation, the closing of churches, decreases in Sunday Schools, the recalling of missionaries from the field, and the general defeat and retreat of the Christian church. Now God was graciously visiting many of the nation’s cities with revival in the middle of the century. Evangelists of many denominations were seeing an inexplicable surge in religious interest. Masses of people were coming under conviction of sin and were turning to Christ. It was the beginning of an awakening comparable to the greatest ones in America’s history. Life, boldness, radiance, and power would be infused into the churches. From a human perspective, the last half of the 20th Century was a bleak forecast of crisis and ever-threatening war. But the Christian’s responsibility was to submit in faith to the God who was moving, utilize the modern opportunities He had provided such as those in communications and transportation, and walk through the doors He was opening. “The outlook is one of confidence, of hope, of trust,” declared Ockenga. “God is moving in sovereign good pleasure. God uses human instruments [and He] wants you to be in His will.” “Mankind at home and abroad [is] ready, responsive . . . longing . . . waiting. Will these doors close?” “This is the hour. This is our last chance. This is our task. God asks who will go, who will pray through, who will preach, who will pay the price?” Many of the pastors and leaders who heard Ockenga that day began discussing the possibility of a united evangelistic campaign in Minneapolis.19 But even they could not have guessed the tremendous results to which their discussion was ultimately to lead later that year.
Only a few days after Ockenga’s talks in Minneapolis, the next major outbreak of revival to catch the attention of the national press occurred at Wheaton College just outside Chicago, Illinois.20 In 1950, Wheaton College was perhaps the best-known Christian college in the country. Every semester was begun with special meetings. This year at the opening Sunday evening service, the speaker exhorted students to repent of all sin that was blocking God’s power in their lives. The response was small and continued so for the next two days. On Wednesday night, the college president asked if there were a few who wanted to share testimonies before the sermon. One young man came to the microphone; and when he was done, a few others were waiting in line to share next. But by the time they had finished, there was quite a line of students waiting their turn to speak. The mighty Spirit of conviction of sin swept over the audience. Almost every student who came to the microphone began to publicly confess wrongdoings, and nearly all the students in the audience began to painfully recognize the sins in their own lives for which they had been making excuses. All sorts of sins were confessed from cheating and theft to pride and bitterness. Confessions were made solemnly and sometimes with tears. One student apologized for criticizing the faculty. Another confessed being proud of his membership in a certain campus organization and looking down on others in a different one. Several students who had stolen things were moved to return the stolen items or to pay for them. One young man testified, “Last night I looked in my yearbook, and after my name it said baseball is my main interest. I want to change it to say: Christ is my main interest.”
At first between 50 and 100 students waited in line to confess and testify. The scheduled service had long been forgotten. As hundreds upon hundreds more were moved to speak, the line of students began sitting in the choir chairs on stage to await their turns. Confessions continued all night. Classes were canceled as what had begun as a Wednesday evening service continued unbroken and unabated through Thursday morning, Thursday night, and Friday morning until lunch. During the first twelve hours, it was mostly Christian students who were stirred to confession and rededication of themselves to God. But by Thursday morning, quite a few unsaved began to be affected. Clearly, what was happening was the intense convicting power of the Holy Spirit. The college debate team was traveling in Florida and unaware of what was transpiring back in Illinois. One member was reading his Bible and praying when he suddenly became overcome with conviction of his sins of criticism, hatred, and conceit. Immediately he confessed to his fellow team members who were subsequently struck with conviction and repented of their own sins towards each other. A University of Chicago student heard a radio news item about what was happening at Wheaton and went to see for himself. After listening to five hours of student confession and testimony, he sought counsel for how to become a Christian. It seemed as if the Spirit of conviction of sin was almost inescapable in the Wheaton College assembly.
A Lutheran pastor and friend of the LEM who happened to be preaching in Chicago at that time visited Wheaton College during the revival and brought back a detailed and favorable report for readers of Evangelize based on personal observations and interviews.21 “Praise God for the Wheaton revival!” he said. “May the same spirit spread, giving rich showers of blessing to even our beloved Lutheran Church!”
“Surely, we are living in days of revival,” wrote Rev. J.O. Gisselquist in March’s Evangelize,22 and again the next month, “We praise God . . . for what we see of the revival in our day. This is a day of divine visitation.”23 May’s issue of Evangelize carried a feature article by Gisselquist entitled “The Challenge of Revival” which both rejoiced over the current movement and exhorted Christians on how they might advance it further.24
“It is evident that God is sending revival in our day! Recent news from various places and widespread interest in revival indicate that, by the grace of God, we are entering a period of revival that will stir our land.”
“If God is sending revival, churches cannot isolate themselves or stand on the sidelines; they must either support or oppose the work of God.”
“That revival is desperately needed today even worldly people realize . . . Worldly people are looking to religion as the way out of the critical problems we face . . . common people today are interested in news of revival and what religion has to offer.”
“We can only meet the challenge of our day by a fresh consecration, a whole-hearted yielding to God and a quick response to the leading of God’s Spirit.”
“But the question is, are we willing to go God’s way? Or are we so rooted in old forms, prejudices and plain selfishness that we make ourselves unusable in the day of battle?”
“Cleansing is needed before God can or will use us as His channels . . . The revival must begin with the house of God.”
“Shall we at the turn of the half-century see a mighty revival? We believe so. We believe it is here already.
“Shall we as a Lutheran church and a Lutheran Evangelistic Movement have a part in this revival? We most certainly can if we are willing to pay the price.
“Let us close ranks with the brethren and unitedly face the foe . . . ‘Lord, make me a channel that you can use.’”
Near the middle of that March, United Spiritual Advance sponsored a two-day prayer fellowship retreat for 120 Minneapolis pastors of all denominations, including ten Lutherans and LEM men.25 Once again there was discussion of tentative plans for a united city-wide evangelistic campaign. Ever since their October 1948 retreat, the Holy Spirit had continued to stir this group of leaders towards personal revival and had so deeply burdened them to pray for a moving of God in their own congregations and city that they had been meeting every Tuesday morning to do so. Their leaders, Dr. Paul S. Rees (Mission Covenant) and Dr. Victor B. Nelson (Presbyterian),26 had become part of a seven-man independent volunteer steering committee working to secure Billy Graham for an evangelistic campaign later that fall.27 It was obvious that God had raised up Graham as His instrument unto revival in several major U.S. cities over the previous few months. Might he also be God’s answer to the years of prayer offered for revival in Minneapolis? Then in April came the disheartening news that, due to a doctor’s advice that Graham needed rest lest he overextend himself more than he already had, the tentative Minneapolis plans would have to be canceled.28 From Minneapolis, Drs. Rees and Nelson flew overnight to where Graham was then speaking in Providence, Rhode Island, and asked him to reconsider in light of the outstanding need and opportunity of the Midwest. Graham promised them that he would wait on the Lord’s leading before making a final decision; and after a period of rest during May, he indeed felt encouraged to reschedule the Minneapolis meetings.
As anticipation grew and plans progressed towards the autumn crusade, Graham himself came to speak to 160 of the sponsoring pastors at a June 12 breakfast meeting.29 The LEM men present were struck both by the noticeable absence of any critical or divisive spirit in the gathering and by the widely representative group of local pastors including some “from what might be known as the liberal camp.” It seemed as if God had taken control of all factors and had brought them into conformity with His own overriding purpose. The LEM leaders were also impressed with Graham’s humility, vision, and simple faith in the power of God‘s Word. The main themes which he plainly told the gathering he emphasized in crusade sermons - sin, the certainty of judgment, and salvation through the cross of Christ - were the very themes which the LEM had been emphasizing during thirteen years of conferences. This crusade was an endeavor which they were eager to support and advertise. LEM Director Evald Conrad was appointed chairman of the prayer preparation committee whose goal was to have between 500 and 1,000 prayer groups actively operating before the crusade started. As the crusade neared, hopeful expectations and prayers increased that 1950 might be the year in which God’s Spirit visited Minneapolis in an extraordinary way.
Revival at Mid-Century in the LEM
Meanwhile, signs of the Spirit’s mighty moving within the LEM were still abundantly evident by the middle of 1950. At the Minot, North Dakota, Bible Conference May 7-12, “the spirit of revival was present.”30 Among those who found salvation were “some older people who had been seeking a long time to find peace with God,” several nurses from the local Lutheran hospital, and a number of students from the local Lutheran high school. Rev. Conrad estimated that at least 25 people gave testimonies at the closing service. A “tender spirit of unity in the ministry of soul-winning” was seen among Christians attending the Sheyenne, North Dakota, Bible Conference in early June.31 During the final Sunday sessions, “scores of people” gave public testimony of salvation and deepening of Christian life. After the last service, over 50 people stayed behind for salvation or rededication.
One month later, a most amazing report was received from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lynwood, California.32 By the middle of a week of special meetings with Dr. J. Edwin Orr, the church officers and members had come under such “deep concern” over their spiritual condition that confessions of sin, reconciliations, restitutions, and restorations from backsliding had become the norm for the rest of the week. After the close of each evening’s meeting, many of which had lasted until 10:00 PM, the pastor had been kept in his office until midnight counseling repentant church members. During the midst of the reviving of Christians, some unsaved had begun spontaneously to confess their need for Christ. Although the church had already grown tremendously from 20 to 400 members since its beginning five years earlier, the pastor exclaimed, “Never before . . . has there been such a working of the Spirit of God.” Orr later reported that, over the weeks and months which followed, the revived Christians began inviting friends and neighbors who in turn were converted and transformed. Within one year, St. Paul’s had received 400 new members, thus doubling its size.
By mid 1950, the renowned revival historian Orr could declare concerning the current movement across the nation, “We have not seen anything like the Welsh Revival yet, but I do think that a great Evangelical revival has already begun.”33 In view of that movement, the timely theme chosen by the LEM Executive Committee for 1950’s Deeper Life Conference was “Revive Thy Work in the Midst of the Years” (Habakkuk 3:2).34 As the conference opened in mid July, Rev. Conrad challenged those arriving,
“There is one definite prayer that all of us should have for this conference, and that is revival, awakening, and quickening . . . We believe this year in America is one of special visitation from heaven. We hear of showers of blessing in many areas and among many different groups. Now we believe that great showers will fall upon us. Let that be our united request these days.”35
Some of the session topics during that year’s two-week conference included “The Place of Judgment in God’s Dealings With Men” (“In Salvation, The Judgment Seat of Christ, Judging Ourselves, Judgment Begins at the House of God, Final Judgment of the Ungodly”), “Vessels Meet for the Master’s Use”, and “Studies in New Testament Revivals.” Open discussion during one session in the latter category yielded both a fascinating report and a definitive conclusion. “Testimony all the way from the West Coast to West Union revealed [that] each revival in all LEM conferences [had] been preceded by [the] revival of Christians through prayer, [the] settling of differences, and [the] union of motive and desire to that one end - [the] salvation of souls.”36 While the observation about the reviving and unifying of Christians was significant, the compilation of revival accounts by a never-more-widely-representative group of LEM friends37 was invaluable. Clearly, there must have been more revivals occurring at LEM conferences and evangelistic meetings than were being reported in Evangelize. Another conference topic which undoubtedly inspired the faith and divine imaginations of many was “Reports of Modern Revivals.” Within this category were considered the revivals in Scandinavia under Hauge and Rosenius; those in Finland over the years; those in Rockford, Illinois, and surrounding communities in the late 1800’s; the mighty movement in China during the 1930’s; and the current movement in central Africa.38
On the afternoon of the first Friday of Deeper Life, Dr. Paul S. Rees of United Spiritual Advance and Minneapolis’s First Covenant Church addressed a special gathering of pastors on the theme, “Re-thinking Evangelism.”39 As a nationally known and influential Christian leader, Rees offered five main points which were pertinent not only for Midwestern Lutherans but also for churches across the nation.40
“We must reassess the degree of drift and decline in Protestant churches. God has trouble getting us to confess sin both as individuals and as churches.”
“We need to reverse the order of revival and evangelism. Revival should be first and evangelism growing out of it . . . A revived church is God’s most effective instrument of evangelism.”
“We need to readjust our thinking to the variety of levels at which revival may be experienced . . . personal, congregational, denominational, community, or national.”
“We need to remove the prejudices and preconceptions of liberals and conservatives alike.”
“We need to rediscover the cell structure of revival. The mass methods are reported in the press. But there are things going on under the surface that need to be intensified or the large campaigns will not give us what we need.”
One of those sub-surface cells occurring unbeknown to the national press was the LEM and its flagship conference.41 “We praise God that He [indeed] gave us revival at Deeper Life,” rejoiced Conrad. Registration for that year’s two-week conference had risen to 1316 and, as usual, was supplemented by hundreds of daily commuters from the Twin Cities and surrounding vicinity. Others listened to the daily broadcasts from camp over radio station KTIS.42 The 2,000 present on the closing Sunday was a new mark for an LEM gathering whose attendance was spread out over two weeks. Leaders commented on the remarkable freedom from any disturbance of the enemy which reigned throughout all sessions. “Hundreds of Christians were . . . revived and quickened by [God’s] Word.” Good evidence of this fact was the loving family spirit of helpfulness and sharing which pervaded the grounds, the strong interest in the optional 7:00 PM Fellowship Hour (testimonies and singing), and the large response to the call to consecration and Christian service. The youth were so affected in their conference that it was difficult to find enough time for all the testimonies which they desired to share.43 Christians rejoiced in the “large number of young and old [who] were awakened and converted.” “Almost every night there were people who found their way to the front after the service and requested spiritual help.” On some nights, the sizable number at the altar were matched by the number of friends in the front pews praying for them. Conrad noted that a certain young man who had received Christ one evening “came from a nearby town where quite an awakening had been in progress the previous weeks.” Again, it is clear that more revivals were occurring than were being reported by the national or local press. After the closing service of Deeper Life had been dismissed on Sunday night, about 200 people who wanted to share testimonies or get spiritual help stayed behind for a spontaneous and glorious after-meeting.
The Great Minneapolis for Christ Crusade
By the time Deeper Life had concluded on July 30, preparations were rapidly accelerating towards the Minneapolis for Christ Crusade scheduled to begin September 17. The most important of those preparations, said Billy Graham in conference with prayer chairman Evald Conrad, was that the city be saturated with prayer.44 Two weeks before the crusade began, Conrad could report the following. A large city-wide prayer meeting was being held downtown daily Tuesday through Saturday. Additionally, daily prayer meetings were being conducted in twenty downtown shops, stores, and offices while over 100 churches were hosting Saturday evening prayer meetings for men. Cottage prayer meetings were being held every Tuesday through Friday in several hundred homes across the city. More homes were being added, and hopes were for 1,000 such daily prayer meetings attended by an average of ten people each.
Minneapolis was only Billy Graham’s fourth crusade since Boston,45 and prayers were that God might bless this endeavor with revival as He had each of those previous ones.46 It did not take long to realize that He was going to answer this request abundantly. Within just nineteen minutes of the Minneapolis Auditorium’s doors being opened for the first crusade meeting on the afternoon of Sunday, September 17, its 11,000 seats were filled.47 Another 1,000 people were seated in an annex where they could hear over a loudspeaker although they could not see the platform.48 Still another 11,000 were left outside. About 2,500 of these gathered in a nearby parking lot where Billy Graham preached an impromptu sermon to them, and about 75 there accepted Christ before the official crusade had even begun. Inside the auditorium, Minnesota governor Luther Youngdahl publicly welcomed Graham saying, “These are going to be tremendously important spiritual days for Minnesota. The simple reason we have so many troubles today is that we have forgotten God.” Rising to address the expectant crowd, Graham quickly deflected attention away from himself. “I do not carry a revival in my suitcase. We are looking to God to send a revival.” “We’ve heard what the psychologists and scientists have to say. Now I believe it’s time to hear what God has to say.”49 For his text from God‘s Word, Graham selected Galatians 6:14. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . .” (KJV) “The reason the world is in the mess it’s in,” declared Graham, “is that we have forgotten the Christ of Calvary.” Next, he listed four things which revealed the depravity of man: the world in which man lives, the moral law given to Moses on Mount Sinai, God’s law which shows man he is a sinner, and the cross of Calvary. Striding back and forth across the platform, the fiery young evangelist made his points in a voice ranging dramatically between shouts and whispers while “sometimes waving his Bible, pounding his hand or pointing his finger.”
“The very fact that the sacred Son of the living God had to die on the cross of Calvary shows me how black and how dirty and how awful sin is. The cross exemplifies the highest love of God. I don’t care how deep in sin you’ve gone. God loves you in everlasting love. If there had been any other way, God would not have sent Christ to the cross. He paid the penalty for you and me and there is no other way to be saved except through Him. If you think you will get to heaven any other way, brother, you’re mistaken.”
At the altar call, 150 men, women, and children of all ages came forward, many wiping tears from their eyes, while others in the audience sniffled. The next day, the first line of the Minneapolis Star’s front-page report read, “Revival fire has been re-kindled in Minneapolis.”
On Monday evening, Graham preached on Naaman the Leper.50 “Tonight you have the leprosy of sin. It is in your heart, in your mind, in your body. You’ve all got it.” Describing the citizens of Minneapolis as a “proud, comfortable, middle-class people,” Graham admonished, “You will have to humble yourselves. I tell you, outside of Christ no man is safe.” Though the attendance was 4,000 less than the previous afternoon, a greater number - 175 - responded to the altar call.
On Tuesday night, delegations from several surrounding Minnesota cities increased the attendance to 10,000.51 “Have you repented of your sins?” shouted Graham. “Think! Think! Have you? Jesus said, ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ Brother, when Jesus said it, I believe it. Unless ye repent you’ll never be saved or walk down the streets of heaven.” Graham defined four parts to repentance: conviction of sin, godly sorrow for sin, confession of sin, and discontinuance of sin.
“You cannot live a worldly life and say you are a Christian. Any professing Christian who lives a worldly life has a false experience. Repentance means to change - a complete turning around. Unless you’ve confessed and humiliated yourself before Christ you’ll never get to heaven. Tonight, God the Father has His arms outstretched to forgive and cleanse if you will come confessing your sins.”
One hundred sixty-two people came forward that night to do so.
Certainly, those who were being converted through the crusade were not being drawn by sugar-coated descriptions of an undemanding religion. Future generations may be somewhat surprised that thousands of modern, cultured people would not only tolerate such fiery preaching but would even flock to hear it and obey it. Wednesday night’s crowd of over 10,000 heard Graham boldly declare, “I’m not so afraid of what Communism can do to America as much as what the judgment of God will do unless we repent and turn to God.”52 After that evening’s altar call, a total of 647 people had come to Christ in just the first four days of the crusade - an overwhelming response according to Graham. And everyone around him added their amazed agreement.
Friday evening, when delegations from twenty Minnesota and two Wisconsin cities raised attendance to 10,700, Graham spoke on backsliding.53 “A backslider is a person who grieves the Holy Spirit by sin in his life. If you are a backslider, there is but one way to return. And if you keep going on after a sermon like this, you’re in greater danger than if you hadn’t come here tonight at all.” At the invitation, 107 backsliders rededicated their lives to Christ while another 110 individuals received Christ as Savior.
Saturday night’s crowd was augmented by 550 who had traveled by special train from Duluth, Minnesota, and 650 who had come on a fleet of buses from Willmar, Minnesota.54 Interest in the crusade and in Christianity was so great that Sunday afternoon’s meeting was held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds where delegations from Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, and several Minnesota cities55 were just some of the 31,000 people who filled the grandstand and listened to Graham speak on “Casey at the Bat.“56
“God has a television camera and a tape recorder on your life each moment of the day. At the judgment day He will show each one of us our sins, and unless we have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, we’ll spend eternity in hell.” But “if you will accept Christ today as your personal Savior, you’ll not be left stranded at second or third base. He’ll give you eternal life. He’ll bring you home.”
At Graham’s invitation to receive Christ, 261 people filed down to the large platform and lined it from end to end, five and six deep. The front page of the next day‘s Minneapolis Star reported that, with 1,206 converts thus far, the Minneapolis for Christ Crusade had seen more results in its first eight days than any other previous Graham crusade.
What was the nature of the conversions which were occurring? Graham’s organization reported that those coming forward in Minneapolis were both young and old and represented every walk of life.57 Their countenances were sober and thoughtful, their faces often stained with tears. Theirs was no mere passive acceptance of the gospel. Personal workers were spending late hours in the inquiry room counseling those who were diligently seeking the Savior. LEM secretary Orloue Gisselquist commented, “Many of us have heard of definite ones converted and now happy in the Lord.”58
Interest in and receptivity to Christianity were surging among all age groups across the whole city and throughout the surrounding area. Each noon on Tuesday through Friday of the second week Graham spoke to between one and two thousand University of Minnesota students in the Armory, and daily there were conversions.59 On the second Saturday, 14,000 children between the ages of five and fifteen came out for a morning rally hosted by Graham and his team; 500 of these answered the appeal to “come unto Jesus.”60 On “Ladies Night” of the crusade, the Minneapolis Auditorium filled in a record fourteen minutes and several spacious neighboring church auditoriums tried to accommodate the overflow crowds.61 Hundreds of women stood outside or sat in parked cars to listen over loudspeakers while lack of space forced many buses bringing women from other cities to turn around and head home. “There is a community-wide appeal,“ observed Orloue Gisselquist, “that touches the city and a surrounding area greater in size than the state and reaches into strata of society unreached before.”62 “There is revival in Minneapolis,” exulted LEM Director Evald Conrad.63 Citing as evidences of this the enormous attendances, the hundreds of conversions, and conversions occurring even outside of crusade meetings, Conrad continued. “The whole city is being stirred. People are talking about religion in the street cars, in the shops, in the stores and in the offices . . . One can sense in the very atmosphere that there is revival in the city.” A veteran Lutheran missionary to China who stayed in Minneapolis during two weeks of the crusade said she was reminded of the great Chinese revival during the 1930’s.64
After Graham’s sermon on “Visibility Zero” on day fourteen of the crusade, the total number of reported converts had reached 2,544.65 To what were they responding? “Like Bartimaeus, scores of you here tonight are blind,” Graham had preached. “You are blind to the gospel, to the light of God, to all spiritual things. Jesus is passing by you tonight. If you cry out for mercy like the blind beggar, Jesus will hear.” While many in the audience had wept, 136 people had come forward seeking Jesus for that mercy.
On Monday, October 2, members of the LEM Executive Committee attended a city-wide ministerial breakfast meeting addressed by Billy Graham.66 Undoubtedly present that morning were many pastors from the 200 supporting churches67 who had been attending the meetings nightly “in a fine demonstration of united vision and genuine cooperation.”68 Graham listed for them three “results of revival” that he was seeing.69 First of all, Christians were being refreshed and were beginning to witness more openly for the Lord. Secondly, sinners were being saved. Thirdly, the converts were being directed back to their churches or, if they had no church of preference, to one recommended by an independent committee of seven pastors.
For convenience sake, the LEM Executive Committee held their own meeting later that morning in a conference room of the same hotel which had hosted the ministerial breakfast.70 Upon breaking for lunch, they came across a remarkable sight. The large banquet room of the hotel was crowded with members of a certain local organization’s booster club to whom Billy Graham was speaking.71 The men present in the smoky room “were not likely the kind to have heard [Graham] at the evening meetings,” yet they were obviously quite interested and respectfully attentive as they listened to Graham’s message about America’s need to repent of her sins and return to God. The partitions between the banquet room and the general dining area had been opened; and scores of other diners, as well as waiters and waitresses, were listening also. When Graham had finished, the assembly gave two standing ovations and then adjourned quietly and thoughtfully without much of the typical chatter and joking. To the LEM men, the booster club’s response was “indicative of the breadth of ministry and appeal” of both Graham and the entire crusade.
On its twenty-second day, the great Minneapolis for Christ Crusade concluded with another massive Sunday afternoon service at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Twenty-seven thousand people endured chill autumn weather in overcoats and blankets to hear Graham warn that World War III was on its way “unless sinners give their hearts and souls to this great revival. God says the sinner must die. The sinner is at war with God.”72 At that final altar call over 600 people came forward, 262 of them to receive Christ as Savior. In just 22 days, an estimated 262,000 people had attended the crusade.73 Of the nearly 5,700 counseled in the inquiry room74 over 3,800 had been converted,75 approximately a quarter of that latter number being Lutherans.76 The ratio of converts to attendees was the best Graham had seen yet, and this in spite of the fact that he admittedly had “never preached with more weakness” and his “sermons were never worse than [in Minneapolis].”77 “All credit must go to God,” he told the press. And indeed, where else could it go? The outpouring of revival for which Christians had long been petitioning God had finally come. Spiritual fruit which no amount of effort could have produced a decade earlier was now abundant. Minneapolis had experienced “a great stirring from its center to its circumference, and it [would] never again be the same.”78
1950: The Year of Revival
What Billy Graham saw during 1950 was not limited to his crusades alone. Other lesser-known evangelists, especially those of Youth For Christ, also saw incredible numbers of souls saved or revived during 1950 crusades - several thousand in Long Beach, California; nearly 1,000 in Oakland, California; nearly 1,000 in Fort Wayne, Indiana; well over 700 in Memphis, Tennessee; and so on.79 In July of 1950, such a large crowd showed up for the opening Sunday service of a Kansas City Crusade that Youth For Christ evangelist Mervin Rosell preached three services instead of two inside the 12,000-seat Municipal Auditorium.80 Well over 500 people professed decisions for Christ within the first two services alone, and a total of 5,300 had done so by the end of the 22-day crusade. The next month, Rosell moved on to Des Moines, Iowa, where as many as 30,000 gathered for evangelistic services under big-top tents on the lawn of the state capitol. In addition to the multitudes saved during the crusade, “conversions were occurring in churches on Sunday as well.” 81 After the crusade, Rosell made a quick preaching tour through several county seats and saw another thousand come to Christ.
But it was not just in the large cities and crusades that God was moving. It was also in the small towns and rural areas, within individual churches, and during countless weeks of special meetings sponsored by evangelists and groups such as the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement. Reports printed in Evangelize during the latter months of 1950 indicate that this was so. In September, five evenings of special meetings at a Lutheran church in Ellsworth, Iowa, were extended to twelve to accommodate all of the seeking souls.82 Some were so burdened and troubled that they would leave after the service but soon return for prayer and counsel, staying as late as midnight in order to find the Lord. Over 40 turned to Christ, most of them youths and young married couples. The following month during special meetings at a Lutheran church in Northwood, North Dakota, so many unsaved and backsliders repented of sin one evening that some had to kneel for prayer at their pews because the altar was already full.83 In spite of the school carnival across the street, many young married couples chose rather to attend the church meetings in order to find peace of soul. After the final service, several stayed as late as midnight to obtain help from the evangelist and local pastor.
Without a doubt, 1950 was, as Dr. Harold Ockenga had predicted, “the year of revival.” It marked the beginning of a new era in which God drew hundreds of thousands to the cross of Christ. At the end of 1950, Billy Graham could state, “In our own campaigns during the past year we have seen nearly seventy-five thousand souls coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus
Christ . . . .”84 And those were just Graham’s campaigns. How many tens of thousands were converted in 1950 through scores of similar large city-wide crusades held by lesser-known evangelists? Statistics in those instances might at least have been recorded and be able to be compiled. But who was keeping track of such statistics within all of the smaller churches and Christian organizations? Even within the LEM itself where reports were plentiful, it is impossible to estimate how many hundred were saved or revived during 1950. And the LEM was just one organization within one denomination. During the summer of 1950, Lutheran evangelist Clarence Haaland conducted tent campaigns in five Midwestern states and saw usually 15 or more souls converted at each set of meetings.85 Such news was so comparatively insignificant in 1950 as to be hardly considered noteworthy. Not even Evangelize reported it though Haaland had close ties to the LEM and his schedule of meetings was sometimes noted in its magazine. It was not revival compared to what was happening elsewhere. In 1950, it represented just one very small part of a much larger story. The work of the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement was another small part of that story. Taken as a whole, though impossible to completely quantify and qualify these many decades later, the story might correctly be called “The Wonderful Works of God.” (Acts 2:11 NKJV) It is not a story about man. Rather, it is a story about the mighty works which our forefathers saw God perform towards them and towards those around them. And it deserves to be retold so that we might praise God for what He has done and hope in Him for what He is certainly still able to do again today.
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