Chapter 7 - The Power Of God To Salvation
Series: Our Fathers Saw His Mighty Works
What did the members of the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee believe was so indispensably distinctive about the work to which God had called them? By their own admission, “Various efforts to promote sound Lutheran evangelism [have already] been made at various times.”1 What was it then that gave the Committee the driving enthusiasm to carry out their calling as if they were the only ones meeting such a critical need? There were two things mainly. First of all, to the best of their knowledge, “no united effort [in evangelism] on the part of the various Lutheran synods has until recently . . . been made.“2 That first effort towards united evangelism had been, of course, the first Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Conference in January 1937. But secondly, and far more importantly, the Committee saw the type of evangelism they were promoting as uniquely vital. With sadness, they observed that, “Generally, churches (including Lutherans) are just kidding themselves as to the ‘Christian standing’ of even their best members.”3 At the same time, other “movements of evangelism have generally dried up, are in much confusion, and are utterly failing to effectively answer today’s need.“4 There are “those who give a shallow release or freedom to people. Assurance is emphasized rather than a new birth. The killing effect of the law [of God] is averted and people get a ‘release’ without the real freedom of the New Covenant.”5 But “those who emphasize just ‘coming to assurance’ fall short.”6 What then did the Committee believe was the solution to all of this? They stated, “We believe that . . . every person must feel the ‘terror of the law [of God].’”7 “We want to emphasize the preaching of the law, the necessity of dealing with sin, and the clear line between saved and unsaved.”8 “What will answer the need of our times is . . . a real experience of sin and the Gospel, being bound and being loosed . . . We must preach on the sins that the people are living in.”9 “Our aim must be to bring the penitent sinner to the Lord . . . It is the Holy Spirit that must give them release.”10 Evangelism, then, was very simply, “the proclamation of the evangel, the gospel, with the purpose of leading souls to repentance, conversion and salvation.”11 The gospel was the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners, and the Committee strongly believed that it was “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16b NKJV) Consequently their burden, brought out so clearly through their Evangelistic Conferences, was “the great need within the Lutheran Church of winning men to a living faith in Jesus Christ.”12
As moving as had been that first Evangelistic Conference in January 1937, it proved to be not a culmination but a beginning. The second such conference, held one year later, was planned with expectations of even greater things than the first conference had yielded. A letter from the Committee, mailed to hundreds of pastors and lay leaders throughout the Midwest, read in part,
“We cordially invite you to the second annual Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Conference which will be held Jan. 11, 12, 13, at the Bethany Lutheran Church (N.L.C.), Minneapolis. We believe there is a crying need in our day for a greater evangelistic emphasis and a systematic program of evangelism. Those who were privileged to attend the conference last year are thanking God for the blessings received. Some have testified that they have never attended a conference like it.”13
In addition to this, Rev. Conrad sent out a special invitation to some of his personal contacts.
“Permit me to use this opportunity to invite you and to urge you to attend the Conference on Evangelism, January 11, 12, 13. I believe the Conference will give you new visions, great inspirations, and stirring challenges that will help you in your ministry this year as well as the rest of your ministry.
“I am sure the program attracts you. Outstanding men of God who have been used in a special way will bring messages and lead discussions. Then the Christian fellowship, sharing of problems, meeting the brethren of a kindred spirit, will strengthen, encourage, and rejoice your soul.
“We expect a large attendance. Brethren everywhere are feeling the need of evangelism.”14
And then, with a phrase so characteristic of him and which he would often use in the LEM in the years ahead, Conrad concluded, “Welcome to the Conference.”
So convinced was Conrad that this infant evangelistic movement had vital and far-reaching implications for the country that he even wrote to the nationally renowned radio preacher Dr. Walter Maier of The Lutheran Hour, inviting him to the conference. “The Committee on the Conference appreciates the work you are doing on the radio and we feel that your emphasis is one we believe needs stressing from every pulpit.”15 Although the busy radio season kept Maier from attending the conference, his cordial reply to Conrad surely must have heartened the Committee.
“Please give my greetings to the various members of your group. I feel that they are rendering an important service in attempting to promote the cause of evangelism in the Lutheran Church and certainly would enjoy the privilege of being permitted to cooperate. Please let me hear from you again, and if you have any printed reports of the proceedings, I should be very happy to receive copies.”16
On January 11, 1938, over 300 pastors and lay leaders from nine different states assembled at Bethany Lutheran Church.17 The schedule for the Second Annual Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Conference was similar to that of the previous year.18 One difference this year was that six of the Committee members themselves were speakers in addition to five others. Every morning, Rev. J.O. Gisselquist began with devotionals on “The Holy Spirit and Prayer,” “The Holy Spirit and Sin,” and “The Holy Spirit and Power.” Some of the other morning and afternoon sessions were, “The Necessity of the Evangelistic Emphasis” (Rev. G.W. Busse), “The Relation of Baptism to Assurance and Conversion” (Rev. Jens Halvorson), “How to Prepare for and Conduct Evangelistic Meetings” (Evangelist Enoch Scotvold), and “Discovering and Developing Spiritual Gifts” (Rev. Clarence Hanson). Evening evangelistic services included, “The Challenge of Prophecy for Evangelism” (Rev. Theodore Rydbeck) and “Vitalized Leadership” (Rev. Joseph Stump). “Every session was well attended and the evening sessions filled the large church auditorium to capacity.”19
But most significant of all was the report from those in attendance that God’s Spirit had moved powerfully in their hearts, convincing them of the urgency of evangelism and in several instances redirecting the courses of lives.20 Rev. Theodore Rydbeck, who spoke at two of the sessions, wrote to Committee secretary Rev. A.W. Knock soon after the Conference, “Indeed God’s blessing was upon the Conference. I was amazed at the response on the part of the pastors.”21 And Knock replied that, “The Committee met for nearly five hours the day after [the Conference] and discussed the results and prayed about the future. We realize that bigger things are still in store . . . .”22
January of the next year, 1939, saw Calvary Lutheran Church in Minneapolis “filled to capacity with pastors and laymen” for the Third Annual Evangelistic Conference.23 From many different synods they came, including the Augustana Lutheran Church (Swedish), the Norwegian Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Brethren, the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Lutheran Church in America (German), the American Lutheran Church (German), and the Lutheran Free Church (Norwegian). Quite a few had traveled a long distance to attend.24 Sessions included, “The Holy Spirit - Baptism and Filling,” “The Holy Spirit - Sealing and Earnest,” “What is an Evangelistic Message?” “Superficial Christianity,” and “Know Ye Not How to Discern These Times?”25 In 1940, the Conference first assumed the name by which it would become so well known in years to come: the “Midwinter Evangelistic Conference.”26 Some of the messages given were, “Christ for Us,” “Christ in Us,” and Christ Thru Us”; “Having the Form of Godliness but Denying the Power Thereof”; “The Challenge of China’s Revival”; and “Soul-Winning Sermons.” An open forum was also held during which pastors and laymen could share practical suggestions regarding evangelism as well as discuss how the work of the Evangelistic Committee could be enlarged and how to equip men for evangelistic work. A sampling of Midwinter Conference topics from 1941 and 1942 was: “Galatians - Law and Gospel,” “The Christ-Life or the Self-Life,” “Spiritual Power,”27 “Prayer and Soul Winning,” and “Confessing Christ.”28
As the foregoing paragraphs demonstrate, one of the main objectives of the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee was to motivate and equip Christian leaders to actively engage in evangelism. Another main objective of the Committee members was to engage in evangelism themselves that souls might be saved. This was especially seen through the Bible Conferences described previously in Chapter 4. Although only a few general accounts have been preserved from the Committee’s early years about how God mightily blessed people’s lives through this two-pronged evangelistic approach, there is a story about some of the Committee members themselves which perfectly exemplifies their two main evangelistic objectives and how they were fulfilled. Actually it is three stories intertwined. They are the stories of a spiritual father and two of his sons in the gospel.
Arthur Wilhelm Knock, better known as A.W. Knock, was born on October 13, 1885, in Gowrie, Iowa.29 He was the seventh of ten children born to two Swedish immigrants who had met after coming to America. Arthur’s father and mother were strong in the Christian faith, both having come to assurance of salvation during the great revivals in Sweden in the time of C.O. Rosenius. Family devotions were a regular part of the morning and evening meals in the Knock household. Church attendance was regular, and Arthur‘s father served in numerous church leadership capacities. When Arthur was a young boy, his father died suddenly from pneumonia and his mother was left to care for ten children and a 160 acre farm. But it was here that her faith in Christ really shone through. Instead of complaining or becoming bitter, Anna Knock cheerfully continued to manage the household while her sons ran the farm itself. As she went about her housework, Anna loved to sing hymns of the faith; and her pastor would often find her doing so at the top of her voice when he drove out to the farm to visit. Although he had come to encourage her in her difficult circumstances, he would leave feeling more uplifted than when he had come. Anna’s spirit towards others was uncritical; she loved to share what she had with those in need; and her home was a happy, loving, and welcoming place for both family and friends. Because ten children and a mother were too many for one vehicle, the members of the Knock family had to alternate Sundays on which they went to church. But on the Sundays that Anna stayed home with some of the children, she would gather them in the parlor and read a sermon to them. She gained strength from Christ through prayer, and she loved God’s Word. Her well-worn Bible would open by itself to one of her favorite passages, Psalm 91, which begins, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1 KJV)
This was the home in which A.W. Knock grew up and through which God surely influenced him greatly. The other major spiritual influence of his youth was the confirmation class taught by his pastor. Through it, Arthur began experiencing deep conviction of sin and recognizing within himself the battle between the flesh and the Spirit. Yet he did not find peace with God for several years. In his later teen years, he entered Gustavus Adolphus Academy in St. Peter, Minnesota; and it was there while studying God’s Word that he finally received assurance of salvation. Arthur graduated from the Academy at Gustavus in 1908 and from the College there in 1912. After one year of teaching school, he entered Augustana Seminary in Rock Island, Illinois, and graduated in 1916. Over the next fifteen years, he pastored churches in Forest Lake, Minnesota; Berkeley, California; and St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1931, he joined the faculty of the Lutheran Bible Institute in Minneapolis; and it was there that he was teaching when he was asked to join the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee in 1937.
It was no coincidence that, even before he became a member of the Committee, Rev. Knock was asked to speak on “Personal Work” during the first Evangelistic Conference in January 1937. He was well-known for his emphasis in this area of ministry as evidenced by his 1934 book Personal Evangelism.30 At church and at special meetings, Knock could often be seen visiting with young people in particular and questioning them directly about how it was between them and God.31 He would not leave the building until he had talked to every one of them if at all possible. The fact that Knock had a heart for young people and that they in turn were attracted to him is borne out by a photo of Knock addressing the high school group at the 1948 Deeper Life Conference on Medicine Lake.32 By the attentive faces, bright eyes, and wide smiles, it is obvious that the audience of approximately 75 young people was deeply engaged and that the speaker was communicating at their own level. Of course it was not always just the matter of personal salvation about which Knock talked to young people. It was also many other matters of the Christian life, including the great need for evangelism both personal and corporate.
One of the young people who was particularly affected by Rev. Knock was Evald J. Conrad. (He was born Evald Johnson, but before his ordination he followed his uncle’s example and changed his last name to Conrad since there were already so many Rev. Johnsons.33) Evald was born on May 23, 1905, and grew up in Stockholm, Minnesota, where his father was a pastor.34 Of significant spiritual influences in his early life, he was later to recall the work that God had done in his parents’ hearts35 and also “stirring evangelistic meetings which,” he said, “made a deep impression on me in my childhood and youth. I particularly remember messages given by three Spirit-filled Lutheran pastors who indeed had the gift of evangelists.”36 One of those three pastors was A.W. Knock. After graduating from nearby Cokato High School in 1922, Evald entered Gustavus Adolphus College.37 There in 1924 God brought him to a very definite experience of full surrender to Jesus Christ.38 The specifics of this experience seem to have been lost to history, but the testimony of one fellow student was that, “God saw fit to have a personal encounter with [Evald]. Like Jacob in the Bible, a great struggle took place that resulted in God being the victor and Evald the submitter. From then on, life had a purpose,”39 and Evald was constantly to be found involved in Christian service.40 It is interesting that although Evald’s own testimony in later life referred to his having had faith in childhood,41 the transformation that took place within him at Gustavus was apparently so dramatic that when two of his former high school acquaintances later heard him preach they believed that he had been converted to Christ since they had last seen him.42
Evald graduated from Gustavus in 1926 and then served as student pastor at a three-point Minnesota parish until 1928.43 For a number of terms between 1928 and 1930, he attended classes at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Minneapolis. Here once again he came in contact with A.W. Knock. One day while Evald was browsing in the LBI bookstore, Rev. Knock approached him44 in his typical straightforward manner and challenged the young man “to consider the calling of an evangelist,” emphasizing “the need and place of evangelists in the Lutheran church.”45 A deep impression was made, and the course of a young life was divinely directed. Evald began to read every book he could find on the topic,46 and from that time on his heart began to burn for evangelism with an unquenchable passion.47
Evald attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, from 1928-1929 and then Augustana Seminary in Rock Island, Illinois, from 1930-1932.48 At Augustana, he met another man who became a great influence in his life with regards to evangelism, Dr. S.J. Sebelius.49 During weekends or vacations, this seminary professor would travel extensively throughout the Midwest holding evangelistic meetings50 which were mightily blessed of God.51 For example, during one Easter vacation when he preached in Spring Garden, Minnesota, the church reported,
“Dr. Sebelius . . . came here sent of God to bear testimony to the saving Grace of Jesus Christ. The result is souls saved. Many received assurance. Others have begun to earnestly seek salvation. Night after night souls sought the Mercy seat on bended knee
. . . There was thanksgiving . . . peace and joy . . . [and] seasons of refreshing from on high.“52
Dr. Sebelius’ custom was to choose a seminary student to accompany and assist him on these preaching endeavors, and in 1931 he chose Evald Conrad as his new partner for evangelistic work.53 What was the great evangelistic influence which this seminary professor had on his student? Perhaps it is best summarized in a letter which he wrote to Conrad in 1937.
“My heart warms at the thought and work of Lutheran evangelism . . . there is nothing that I am so happy in doing as preaching the gospel to souls that are sleeping or backsliding and need to be awakened and urged to return to the father’s house before it is too late.”
“Just now there is a current in our church among some . . . to sound the note of the social gospel. We must save the world, they say, and champion social righteousness else the church is doomed. But that kind of preaching . . . never gets to the root of the matter.”
“No, we must continue to preach the gospel of personal salvation, show people not only how to live . . . but also show people how to die, for death is the coming great crisis for us all. And Lutheran evangelism stands for salvation full and free in Christ Jesus, covering not only the present life but the life to come.”54
One of the most memorable of the evangelistic meetings which Sebelius and Conrad shared was in St. Paul, Minnesota, during the Thanksgiving holidays of 1931. There they witnessed the “inspiring sight . . . [of] almost two hundred people com[ing] forward . . . to renew the promises they had made at confirmation.”55 Forty-five years later, Conrad had still not forgotten that service.56
How did Evald Conrad employ the passion for evangelism with which God had filled him? Already by 1928 he had begun preaching regularly at the church where he was destined to spend the rest of his life: Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, Minnesota.57 The church had been started only five years earlier by about 30 members.58 In spite of the faith and enthusiasm with which those members had initially purchased a large used church building, their home mission congregation had struggled and had nearly been closed twice because of the seeming lack of opportunity for growth.59 Under Conrad’s evangelistic preaching, however, the church began to flourish. Conrad continued preaching at Trinity throughout his student years except when seminary semesters in Rock Island, Illinois, precluded him from doing so. By early 1931, Sunday morning attendances were reaching almost 200.60 In 1932, Conrad graduated from seminary, was ordained,61 and married his sweetheart Eleonora Carlson.62 He also accepted the call to be Trinity’s full-time pastor, stating as he did so, “My greatest joy will be to teach and preach the glorious word of God so that sinners are converted and God‘s children are strengthened.“63 Within a short time, revival had broken out at Trinity.64 Men and women, broken and driven to the end of themselves by the Great Depression, flocked to Trinity seeking help for their spiritual needs.65 Although there was no single dramatic incident which defined this revival, the church grew steadily as souls were saved one by one.66 The church building had to be enlarged several times, and a second Sunday morning service was added to accommodate the crowds.67 A weekly radio broadcast called “The Little Homelike Church” was also begun.68 By 1938, ten years after Conrad’s arrival, Trinity’s membership had swelled to about 1,000.69
In addition to a passion for evangelism, God had given Evald Conrad certain natural abilities which attracted people to him and which consequently attracted them to the Savior whom he proclaimed.70 His plain and unsophisticated preaching style convinced his listeners that he was one of them. They could easily detect the sincere love with which he urged them to repent of sin and believe in the Savior. When he spoke about things of the Lord, the confidence in his voice testified that what he said was true and the urgency in his tone cried out that these things were of utmost importance. His enthusiasm for the Christian life and for Christian service was contagious. His personality was outgoing and friendly, warm and gracious. He was the type of pastor who touched the hands of the children sitting in the aisle seats as he walked to the rear of the church following a service. He was the kind of leader who insisted on arranging and paying for the overnight housing of a fellow Christian whom he found stranded at the train depot.71 Perhaps some of the qualities listed above do not seem so unusual in light of the social skills which are commonly expected from Christian leaders today, but they were rarer traits in Conrad’s time. He was outstanding among his peers. In the words of one of the LEM board members with whom he later served:
“[Conrad] had the native intelligence, leadership ability, personal gifts in meeting and motivating people, and the breadth of mind and affection that enabled him to unite and lead what became the large inter-synodical constituency represented in the LEM. Among Midwestern Lutherans in that period there were very few churchmen with that interest and ability. The synodical-ethnic boundaries then were very well marked.”72
With his personable character and his passion for evangelism, it was only natural that Evald Conrad should be the one to emerge as the leader of the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee and the LEM.
It was A.W. Knock who had first urged Evald Conrad into the work of evangelism, and it was also A.W. Knock who himself evangelized another man who was to figure prominently into the early years of the Evangelistic Committee. Gustav Wilhelm Busse, or G.W. Busse as he was better known, was born in southern Indiana shortly before Christmas of 1903.73 His parents were very religious and committed to the Lutheran church, and they taught their son to pray at an early age. The hero of Busse’s childhood was his pastor who could tell Bible stories so vividly that the young boy felt as if the characters came to life. Religion became a major part of Busse’s life, especially during the two years he attended parochial school. On the day of his Confirmation, he was eager to renounce the devil and all his works and ways. But looking back years later he realized that he had missed something very important. “Because of the blindness and sinfulness of my own heart,” he said, “[I] did not see that at the same time that I renounced the devil, I was to take refuge in . . . the Lord Jesus . . . .”
Beginning at the age of fourteen, Busse spent his next nine years on the campus of a certain Lutheran educational institution - four years in the academy, two in the college, and three in the seminary. Perhaps it was the influence of his childhood pastor that inspired him to train for the ministry. While Busse was at first shocked to discover that not everyone at this institution was as saintly as was his old pastor, it still seemed to him that they were trying to get to heaven - and for that matter so was he. But as the nine years passed, an inner restlessness grew inside his heart. Something was wrong, but no one once asked him about the condition of his soul. Trying to obtain inner peace, for a time he considered becoming a missionary to India. Then he thought that maybe when we was ordained he would discover the secret to soul rest.
But he didn’t. For six years after his ordination, Busse served a church in North Dakota and never found peace. His preaching consisted mainly of rules and not of good news because he had none to share. Then he accepted a call from a church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. To his dismay, he discovered not a church which was thriving but a church which was suffering numerically, financially, and spiritually and which only added to his unrest. Remarkably, God began to give Busse a burden for these people. “The only way,” he said, “[that] I could find any peace and . . . something that would satisfy my soul even a little, was to go to the church early every morning and cry out to God to do something for them . . . .” After two years like this, a desperate Busse had come to the end of his own hopes for ever helping the church and felt that he had no choice but to entrust the matter entirely into God’s care. Immediately the church’s situation began to improve. “I was willing to trust [God] with the congregation,” said Busse, “but not with my own soul!” But this was the way in which God began drawing a man to Himself.
On Sunday, January 26, 1936, Busse and his wife attended a large youth conference in Minneapolis; and, as part of the proceedings, they took part in a small-group discussion on the topic, “How to Use the Bible.” Although he thought himself to be fairly knowledgeable on this subject, Busse was taken aback to hear so many people around him testifying how God’s Word had set them free, brought them peace, and given them eternal life. Silently, he sat listening. As the testimonies drew to a close, a participating pastor, A.W. Knock, got up to summarize what the group had discussed: “‘No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.’ (II Peter 1:20-21) God’s Word was written so that we could know whether we are going to heaven or to hell.” Busse sat there spellbound. He knew that Knock “was speaking about something he had experienced” for himself.
When Busse got home, he told his wife that he would like to have a personal meeting with Rev. Knock and she agreed. So on Monday morning, Busse called Knock; and, without revealing that he himself was a pastor, arranged for a meeting on Friday afternoon at Knock‘s LBI office. Then for the next five days, Busse anxiously worried about what he would say to Knock, how he could hide the fact that he was a pastor who ought to know these answers already, and what he would do if his congregation found out about this. Finally, Friday came and Rev. Knock welcomed Busse and his wife into his office saying, “What seems to be on your mind?” Suddenly Busse forgot all of his prepared explanations and simply blurted out, “There’s something wrong with me and I don’t know what it is.” “Cheer up,” said Knock. “I know.” “How can you when I don’t even know myself?” replied Busse. Knock handed Busse and his wife each a Bible and began directing them to certain passages. “Before I knew it,” said Busse, “my sins were parading before me, one after the other.” He clearly saw himself as guilty before God, but he also began to see something that he had never seen before: the saving grace of Jesus. As God brought him to a place of willingness to give up his sins, the light dawned into his soul that Jesus had already paid for them. It was then that he felt his great burden of sin lifted. “Why, Jesus did it all!” he exclaimed. “Yes,” said Rev. Knock, “Jesus did it all.” “Why that’s great! Jesus did it all!” G.W. Busse went home a transformed man, and he couldn’t wait to preach again. Now he had a purpose for preaching and good news to share: “Jesus saves and you can know it.” Following his second sermon after his conversion, two girls came forward to receive salvation. Busse was thrilled.
All of this happened slightly less than a year before the formation of the Lutheran Inter-Synodical Evangelistic Committee. It is incredible to realize that Busse was invited onto that Committee only eight months into its existence.74 He had been saved less than two years and was certainly the youngest Christian on the Committee. But he knew the Savior and loved to tell others about Him, and that was the type of men the Committee wanted. Each of its members were men eager to spread the same gospel message which had transformed their own lives and to exhort and encourage other Christian leaders to do the same. G.W. Busse is representative of the many who came to Christ through the Committee’s witness. Evald Conrad is representative of the hundreds of church leaders who were stimulated into the work of evangelism through the Committee’s influence. And the fact that A.W. Knock played a significant role in the lives of both of those men serves to demonstrate the twofold evangelistic burden of the entire Committee: to evangelize the lost and to promote the work of evangelism. These were men who were certainly “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” and they had the privilege of witnessing over and over again that truly it was “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16a&b NKJV)
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