Pastor Leonard A. Radtke
Ardent Defender of the Faith
by Carol Helland
Leonard A. Radtke (1930-1982) was a dynamic Bible teacher and soul-winner who proclaimed the Gospel to hundreds of needy souls on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. His passion for the Gospel message and his gift to teach the Word of God made him a prominent pastor throughout the 23 years of his ministry.
Born into an unsaved family in Battle Creek, Michigan, Leonard was an only child. The family attended a Lutheran church during Leonardís youth. His father, Henry, held several jobs during the Depression; he died when Leonard was 16 years old. Leonardís mother, Minnie, had a tremendous influence on his life. She was a loving mother and a disciplinarian; she established rules and guidelines for her son to follow. Her grandchildren recall her love for children and her wisdom in the approach to their training.
They remember the occasions when they would visit grandma, and she would teach them the importance of saving money. She gave each grandchild a dime to spend when he or she went to the store. If the child returned home with the dime and did not spend it on gum, candy, nor a toy, she would match it, and he or she would now have two dimes. On a visit to her son and daughter-in-lawís home, she offered her daughter-in-law a helpful piece of advice about raising children: "Let your yea be yea, and your nay be nay." After Leonard became a pastor, he used his mother as an illustration of the positive influence a mother can have on her children:
"When my mother presented me with the Gospel, I listened to her because I knew I could trust her. I had great respect for her decisions, and I was confident that she had my best interest in mind."
Leonard married Donna Loncaric in 1951. Leonardís mother, and Donnaís mother, Mary, worked together in a factory before Leonard and Donna met. Little did they realize that their children would one day marry, raise a family of seven children, and become "ambassadors for Christ."
Donnaís lineage was Croatian. The family strictly followed the Catholic religion and dogma. Donna attended a Catholic school during her youth and embraced the Catholic rituals and sacraments as a means of attaining salvation. Before her salvation, she was impressed with the pomp and ceremony of Catholic services and the Mass. In fact, the first time she attended a small Bible church with its plain, modest furnishings and verse-by-verse teaching of the Bible, she remarked to Leonard after the service: "I feel sorry for those people; they donít even know how to worship."
The pivot in Leonard and Donnaís life came in 1953 when Leonard was 23 years old. The couple was stationed on a lonely Army post in Wisconsin where their first son, Thomas, was born. Leonardís mother was presented with the Gospel message and responded by faith to Christís finished work on the cross for her. She wanted to share the Good News with her son and daughter-in-law, so she sent them tracts and letters proclaiming that Christ had saved her, and she was on her way to heaven. If they would also accept the fact that Christ had them personally in mind when He died for them, was buried, and arose again, they, too, could be eternally saved. Every letter she sent them contained the Gospel and salvation verses, and every prayer she uttered brought Leonard and Donna before the Throne of Grace.
When Leonard and Donna visited Minnie, she would challenge them of their need of Christ. During the summer of 1953, Leonard and Donna attended Maple Grove Bible Church in Nashville, Michigan. Minnie now attended this church because the pastor presented messages from Godís Word. Pastor Potter visited Leonard and Donna while they stayed at Minnieís. He shared with them verses that proclaimed:
From the Word of God and the Spirit of God convicting Leonard of his need of Christ for eternal salvation, he saw and believed in the true grace of God: Salvation is all of Christ apart from any works. Christ did it all; He paid it all; all to Him I owe. After his salvation, he would frequently say these words: "Iím only a sinner saved by grace." In the month of August of 1953, Leonard accepted Christ as his Saviour (Leonardís middle name was August even though his physical birth was in October).
Donna did not respond as quickly to the gospel message. The Catholic religion and its system of a works salvation were ingrained in her thinking and she had a difficult time letting go of it. "Salvation could not be that simple. Just believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved? What about the Church, the sacraments, the religious works. .canít I trust in Christ and these things, too?"
The Spirit of God worked on Donnaís heart through a Bible verse displayed in the front of Pastor Potterís church:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2: 8-9).
"I sat in a pew and read and re-read that verse over and over again while Pastor Potter spoke his messages: not of works, not of works, not of works. One day it clicked: salvation is all of faith; it is a gift; all I had to do was believe and receive."
Leonard and Donna were now Christians--Christ ones--in whom the Spirit of God dwelled. They had lessons to learn in Godís classroom; however, and the Spirit of God would teach them many things about Himself and lead them into all Truth. They did not immediately abandon the lifestyle they led before they were saved. They still frequented nightclubs, until one day the Spirit of God convicted Leonard of their poor testimony of Him. He shared the following incident with his congregation after he became a pastor to illustrate how the Holy Spirit effectively convicts the believer of sin when the believer is willing to listen and obey:
"The Lord had a lot of work to do in my heart after I was saved. One night when Donna and I were in a nightclub, I thought: ĎWhat are you doing here? The Lord saved you out of this. He has a perfect Purpose and Plan for your life, but it can never be fulfilled while youíre sitting on a bar stool. So get up and get out of here.í After this incident, I never looked back, not did I yearn for that lifestyle."
Leonard thoroughly enjoyed reading and studying Godís Word. He wanted to learn more about the doctrines of the Word, so he enrolled at the Grand Rapids School of Bible and Music in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During the years of his education, 1956-58, he worked as a cabinet maker to support his growing family. He believed that the Lord had called him to become a pastor and followed that course of study.
While Leonard was attending Bible school, a group of 13 believers from the Beacon Bible Church in the Palo/Markham area of northern Minnesota were praying for a pastor who was doctrinally sound and taught from the Bible. They contacted the Grand Rapids School of Bible and requested the names of potential candidates. Two candidates applied for the position, and Leonard was one of them. The first candidate visited the church, looked at the isolated countryside of Palo/Markham, and decided that this ministry was definitely not for him. When Leonard candidated, he realized that he would have to "beat the bushes" to lead people to the Lord to build the church, but that is exactly what he wanted to do. He did not want to inherit "another pastorís flock of sheep." Convinced that the Lord had called him to the Iron Range, Leonard Radtke accepted the position of pastor. Beacon Bible Church could afford to pay him only $200.00/month, and a member of the church who owned a dairy farm would supply the family with "all the milk they needed." Leonard and Donna believed that the Lord would provide and take care of them if they stepped out by faith. In 1959, they and their five children--Tom, Bill, Dan, Nancy, and John--moved to the "land of ticks, pines, and mosquitoes."
A small, old school building in Markham served as their church and home for the first six years of their ministry. The children would have to rise early on Sunday mornings, make their beds and tidy their rooms, because Sunday School was held in all the available space: bedrooms, kitchen, and living room. Northern Minnesota is very cold in the wintertime--many days the temperature never rises above zero, and it can get as cold as 40 degrees below zero. On those cold winter nights, Leonard would awaken in the middle of the night and stock the wood stove to keep the building warm. One time the fire did go out, and the water pipes froze. The next morning the Sunday School children had a great time playing with icicles during their Bible lesson.
During their years at Markham, the Gospel was taken to many homes and Beacon Bible Church did indeed become a light to show forth the glorious message of redemption. Pastor Radtke would drive his car throughout Palo/Markham on Sunday mornings to deliver children to Sunday School. Eventually, the church purchased two buses--a 1948 International 42 passenger and a 1950 Chevrolet 36 passenger--which were used to bring more children to hear the Word of God and learn Bible stories in Sunday School. Many of these children had never attended church, and they were eager to sing songs about the Lord, meet new friends, and memorize Bible verses.
In the summer of 1957, Lydia Erb and her husband, Norman, of Rural Bible Crusade, held Daily Vacation Bible School at Beacon Bible Church. This program, and a camp ministry begun in 1960, introduced many children to the Word of God. They now had a disproportionate number of children to adults on a Sunday morning, with 150 children now attending Sunday School, so they built an addition of four rooms.
In 1965 it became apparent that the church had out-grown the building in Markham. Beacon Bible purchased the former Methodist Church building in Aurora. As soon as they moved, they had to remodel. A balcony and nursery were built and the building was lengthened and made wider to provide a larger auditorium and more Sunday School rooms.
The Radtke family (they now had six children; David was born in 1960) purchased a small farm in Palo and now had more living space and acreage to raise their family. The words "Given to Hospitality" could have been written over the entrance to the Radtkeís home. Anyone, saved or unsaved, could come without hesitation and talk about the Lord with Leonard and Donna. Conversations usually took place at the kitchen table around an open Bible, a cup of coffee, and Donnaís homemade pies.
Pastor Radtke was quick to seize on any evangelistic opportunity. He was a thorough Gospel preacher and Bible expositor who counted on the Work and Spirit of God to drive his words home. He went house-to-house throughout the countryside and small communities witnessing and sharing the Gospel with many people. If you were a hitchhiker and Pastor Radtke stopped to give you a ride, you could count on the fact that he would share the message of Christís redemptive work on the cross with you. He knew that no one could get saved apart from hearing the Gospel of Christ: "So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).
Radtke became known as a defender of the fundamentals of the faith. He took the Bible at face value. He held the traditional Protestant position of justification by grace through faith and not by works. He taught that salvation is a gift from God provided through Christ and received by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He expounded on the traditional fundamental beliefs of the inspiration of the Scriptures, the Diety of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the substitutionary atonement for manís sins upon the cross, Christís bodily resurrection, the return of Christ for His own and with His own to establish His Kingdom on earth. He believed that the Lord Jesus Christís return for believers, the Rapture of the Church, was imminent, and he lived in the daily, happy expectation of that event: "Knowing where we are going and anticipating His imminent return has a stabalizing, comforting, and purifying effect upon a believer," he said.
It was this belief in the eternal realities of heaven and hell, and of the value of the Gospel, that made him so passionate for soul-winning. He would challenge the congregation to share his burden for the lost by saying these words:
"We are not to win others to ourselves but to Christ. God wants to use us. We are indebted to all to give the gospel for Christ has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. Talk to others you meet about the Lord. God will open the doors to witness if we will be smart enough to walk through them."
He urged them to be wise in witnessing but never so "tactful you never attack."
The Gospel spread quickly after Beacon Bible Church moved to Aurora. Radtkeís commanding presence and aggressive evangelistic messages sent the "Good News" throughout the Iron Range communities. "No church can save, not even this church," he would proclaim from the pulpit. "No person can ever boast in heaven, telling of the works he did to earn his entrance there. Instead, all glory, honor, and recognition will go to Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy of our adoration."
Pastor Radtke had a vein of humor throughout his messages, and his delivery was daring, energetic, and uncompromising. He held a strictly non-denominational position. He believed that, too often, doctrine was compromised for the sake of unity. He treated denominational titles like the sound of fingernails squealing across a chalkboard; their very mention grated upon his ears. The religious community did not appreciate his fervor for separation from legalism, ecumenism, and neo-evangelicalism. He took this position: "Mass evangelism is not scriptural--one-to-one witnessing is." As a result, his ministry was independent from other churches on the Iron Range. Often confronted with potentially explosive issues, Radtke did not vacillate but remained true to his convictions and the Word of God.
Pastor Radtke was especially burdened about setting the congregation on the firm footing of New Testament doctrine and practice that would prepare the saints for living the Christian life. He enjoyed teaching the Pauline epistles because Paul
"was a specialist in the gospel of Grace. Paul was indebted to all to give them the Gospel. He would preach it anywhere: I am a debtor. . .I am ready. . .I am not ashamed. And yet, like the Apostle Paul, we also are sent to preach the Gospel and to be counted as fools by the world when we do: ForÖ
Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God" (I Cor. 1: 17-18).
He also appreciated how:
"the Apostle Paul laid a foundation of doctrine in the first half of his books, and then deed in the last half. Doctrine must always precede deed. Any exhortation for proper behavior which is not based on solid Bible doctrine is superfluous and will not hold up."
The congregation frequently turned to Romans 12: 1-2 where Pastor Radtke used Paulís words to clarify the proper attitude behind a believerís service for Christ:
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:1-2)
"It is each believerís responsibility to give the Gospel. We are Christís righteousness; we are His ambassadors."
Another favorite passage of his was:
Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit. (Eph. 5:18)
He explained this verse in this manner:
"Yieldness is the by-product of being filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling is us all that God intended Him to do when He placed Him there. To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit; it is rather the problem of the Spirit getting more of us."
Prayer, fellowship, and grace were topics on which he frequently spoke. "The ingredients for a successful prayer life are belonging to the Lord, praying in the Spirit, and asking in faith believing." Regarding the confession of sin in the life of a believer, the congregation would examine scriptures in I John 1: 9, Psalm 51, and Psalm 38. Pastor Radtke taught:
"When you are in fellowship with the Lord, you are occupied with His Word. When a believer sins, he does not lose his salvation nor the Holy Spirit. Sin breaks fellowship and short-circuits the Spiritís power. Instead of the believer being a channel of blessing, the Holy Spirit must minister to the believer in convicting him or her of sin. God then brings the believer to a place where he acknowledges his sin. Confess in the Greek (homologeo) means to agree with God in His evaluation of you. The key is to make straight paths and acquire a willingness to take positive action after your confession of sin. We use confession as a springboard to obey the Will of God. God doesnít discipline you when you fall--only when you lie there."
When the message of salvation was given, either over the pulpit or in a home, the grace of God was always mentioned by Pastor Radtke:
"Grace is the title given to God and His Divine Plan for mankind. Grace is unmerited favor; we are given something we donít deserve. Grace summarizes all that God seeks to give and to do for man who is unable to do anything for himself. Thus grace excludes manís works. We are saved by grace, thus salvation is a gift to be received by faith. The Christian is commanded to walk by grace. God has given us the Holy Spirit and all things that pertain to life and Godliness. Utilizing Godís grace is the key to Divine power, suffering, prayer, and growth. The believerís greatest occupational hazard is disorientation to the grace of God which results in a lack of fellowship and prayer, a negative attitude toward the Word of God, and legalism. The Christian will then look at life from a human point-of-view as he did before he was saved--occupation with self, money, family, home, and the details of life. All the faithful are Saints, but all the Saints are not faithful. Believers are not called to be spectacular but faithful."
The love of Christ and the love for believers motivated him to "be sold out for Jesus Christ." He frequently quoted these verses: "For the love of Christ constraineth me. . ." (II Cor. 5: 14); "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2). As a pastor, he was a shepherd who cared for his flock. This care was manifested in many ways, but particularly in his prayer life. He kept a Rolodex file on his desk with the believersí names listed in alphabetical order. Daily, he would flip through this file and bring the believers before the Throne of Grace. Although he was very dynamic in the pulpit, he was almost soft-spoken away from it unless he was defending a principle. He enjoyed visiting and fellowshipping with the believers, and he would always appear at the door after every service to greet the men, women, and children with a sincere and cheerful handshake.
Donna was a gentle, fun-loving woman, giving able assistance to her husbandís work. Most of her ministry involved raising their seven children (Steve, their "caboose," as Donna referred to him, was born in 1969). She also taught Sunday School, Bible School, cooked in the kitchen at Bible camp, and directed the Christmas program.
If there was food to be prepared for a church function, Donna would work "elbow to elbow" with ladies from the church in helping to plan the menu, cook the food, and graciously serve it. Because of her manner of life and "labor of love" among the brethren, the congregation saw her as an "aged" (mature) woman of the faith. She taught the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands. . .(Titus 2). She was loved for her "sanctified common sense." At a Bible Conference in 1989, Donna gave a message to ladies titled The Powerful Influence of the Christian Woman. Here are a few of her words:
"Your influence on your husband will make him or break him. You know that phrase, ĎBehind every great man thereís a great woman.í I really like that statement and believe it. You can make your husband a great man. You have the influence and the power to do that. And Iíve come to the conclusion that with very few exceptions, the wife is the marriage partner who holds the marriage and the home together. And sheís responsible for the flavor or the smell of that household. When a Christian woman is walking in the Spirit and she is allowing the Word of God to influence her mind, she is being influenced by God Himself, and she is acquiring the Mind of Christ. Her words and actions are now governed by Godís Love. She is enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit to submit her will to Godís Will."
At her funeral in 1991, Proverbs 31 was read because Donna was an example to many of a virtuous "woman that feareth the Lord."
In the late 1960ís, Pastor Radtke began speaking on the WWJC Christian radio station in Duluth, Minnesota. In 1974, he first aired a radio Bible broadcast, Divine Perspective, on WELY in Ely. The broadcast was later expanded to the Eveleth,
Minnesota, WEVE station. To be consistent with the churchís financial policy, pleas for money were never made over the air. The program was introduced by the hymn "Heaven
Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul." Pastor Radtke then proceeded to share with the listeners the basic truths of Godís evaluation of mankind, His provision of salvation through Jesus Christ, eternal life apart from religious works, and Godís assurance of heaven to all who "believe on the name of the Son of God; that they may know that they have eternal life" (I John 5: 13).
The Aurora Christian School, later named McKinley Christian Academy, was founded in 1974 with an enrollment of 45 students. Many of the parents wanted an alternative form of education for the purpose of educating their children from a biblical point-of-view. In the fall of 1974, 41 children grades second through ninth, were enrolled and by 1980, attendance had reached 130 students from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. Chapel service on Fridays was an opportunity for Pastor Radtke to challenge the young people to consider Christ in their day-to-day living:
"You think no one understands you? You think that your parents donít understand you; your teachers donít understand you; even your Pastor doesnít understand you. Well, I have news for you. JESUS CHRIST understands you. He created you; He died for you; He prays for you; He sticks closer to you than your best friend. Take your care and worry to Him. He will bear your burden."
Beacon Bible Church continued to add to their numbers as the congregation spread the Gospel throughout the Iron Range and beyond. Services were now averaging 300 in attendance. When this number is compared with the church service attendance record from January 14, 1961, of 14 adults, it is apparent that the Spirit of God had moved in the hearts and lives of men and women through the preaching of the Word of God. It was not the sophistication of the surroundings nor the attendees that increased these numbers. There were no multimedia special effects nor modern musical entertainment to induce people to attend. Rather, it was Radtkeís direct approach to communicating Scripture, and the believersí desire to grow in the "grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ."
In 1976 two decisions were made to accommodate the need for a larger building because of the increase in attendance: obtain a five-year lease for the Sigurd Moe School in McKinley, Minnesota, and purchase 38 acres of land on Highway 135 and Heritage Trail on which to build a church. Plans for the new building began as the congregation moved to a temporary location in McKinley. The congregation decided that they would not hire a contractor, nor borrow money for the construction of the church. Instead, they would use the talents and labor of its people. Groundwork began in 1979. Saturday became a workday for the people, though some men worked weeknights as well. On an average Saturday, 25 to 30 men would be at the site and, at times, the number might reach 50 to 75. Eight thousand yards of gravel were hauled for the building site and parking lot. The men worked two consecutive 24-hour days with alternating shifts to accomplish this task. Cement footings were poured, block wall was laid, and six main arches were set in place. After this, the side walls were erected, the building enclosed, and the roof shingled--all of which were completed in November. Thirty-five men nailed sixty tons of
shingles in ten degree weather. Over next two years, various interior work was completed. Walls were erected and electricity and plumbing were installed. Insulating, sheetrocking, the hanging of doors, and painting kept the people busy. The men enjoyed noon smorgasbords prepared by the ladies of the church. A typical meal included four to ten hot dishes, two or three varieties of meat, jellos, salads, fruit, pies, bars, cakes and cookies.
Even with a building program of this size and magnitude, the people did not borrow any money for construction. The congregation met these expenses through their weekly offering. Pastor Radtke stressed to them that giving is totally based on the free will of every man according as he purposeth in his heart. . .not grudgingly, nor of necessity, but out of a cheerful heart as unto the Lord (II Corinthians 9:7). The church never pressured people into giving money. There were no assessments, pledges, tithes, nor bazaars to entice people to give. Repeatedly, Pastor Radtke mentioned that it was the believerís private and personal business between him or her and the Lord regarding the amount of the offering. The only requirement was that it be given to the Lord from a willing and joyful heart. And if you hadnít given that way, he suggested, you should take some money out of the offering plate as it went by.
During this construction period, Leonard Radtke and the believers continued to witness and spread the gospel to areas outside the Iron Range. In 1974, Pastor Radtke began his travels to Duluth and gave weekly Bible studies in the homes of believers. As a result of his faithful teaching of the Word of God, and the believersí witness and testimony to Christís finished work on the cross, souls were saved, believers were grounded in the Scriptures, and eventually, the Duluth Bible Church was established. Other ministries were "planted" in Silver Bay, Clarissa, International Falls, Hibbing, and Minneapolis.
The church and Christian school left its temporary location at the Sigurd Moe School building and began services in their newly built church in the fall of 1982. Sunday morning and evening services now exceeded 500 people in attendance. The name of the church was changed from Beacon Bible Church to Heritage Trail Bible Church to identify its new location. There still remained numerous small details to finish the construction. They purchased carpet for the auditorium which Pastor Radtke acquired at a bargain price when an airline went into bankruptcy. He rejoiced that it spared the church from having to vote on a color. The blue auditorium carpet was installed on Saturday, December 4.
In the early morning hours of December 5, the ringing of believersí telephones across the Iron Range and Duluth awakened them with a shocking message: a house fire had taken the life of their beloved Pastor Radtke and left Donna in critical condition and their son, Steve, in satisfactory condition. Leonard had left his burning house but went back inside to look for Donna; he did not realize that she had escaped through another door with their son John. Leonard was searching the longest part of the house on his way out, making sure no one was left inside, when the toxic fumes of the fire overtook him.
Pastor Radtke was now absent from the body and present with the Lord. "By accepting Christ you receive a down payment--the Holy Spirit--and when you die your body will be delivered to the household of God" had been his words when he spoke on Ephesians 1: 13-14. Leonard now understood the reality of the Apostle Paulís declaration in Philippians 1: 21: For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. At the age of 52, Pastor Leonard A. Radtke laid down his cross to take up his crown.
When Pastor Radtke emerged on the Iron Range in 1959, he had a desire to see people believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. Thousands of men, women, and children have trusted in Christ as their Saviour as a direct or indirect result of his ministry. Only eternity, however, will the Lord reveal the true impact of his ministry for Christ.
When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies. Believers can find comfort in knowing that "God buries His workmen but continues His work." And as believers press on to "work the works" of God, they receive from Him the assurance of abundant life now and eternal life forever. One day they too will be delivered to the many mansions in heaven where their loved ones already dwell. Then mortality shall be swallowed up of life, and the Eternal Rest shall begin.Ę
Carol Helland, and her husband Barry, were led to the Lord through Jeanne (Korsman) Radtke, the late Mrs. Tom Radtke, while they were students at Winona State University. Several years after their salvation, they moved to Duluth to attend Pastor Radtkeís Bible study. In 1976, they relocated to the Iron Range and taught at the McKinley Christian Academy for 12 years. Carol has also instructed the GIBS students in grammar and composition. Currently, she is an English instructor at Mesabi Range Community & Technical College, the mother of three children, and attends Heritage Trail Bible Church.