Dr. F. Stoner Clark and His Message: Pt 1
Dr. F. Stoner Clark, the Man and His Message: Pt 1
What a privilege it is to introduce my husband of 50 years, Dr. F. Stoner Clark, to my readership. He is also my pastor, my spiritual covering and my best friend. In the first part of this article I will be telling you some things about him. I have asked him to write the second part about the message for the church that God has deeply ingrained in his life and teaching, a message formed during over forty years of pastoral ministry.
Stoner earned his B.S. degree from the University of Maryland where he was president of his fraternity and also president of the University of Maryland Bands. He was tapped by Omicron Delta Kappa (national leadership fraternity), and nominated to “Colleges’ Who’s Who.” On that campus of 35,000 people, we met each other in the band. After our marriage in 1964 he was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps and spent a tour of duty in Vietnam. (I was at home having our second child.) After Vietnam he answered the call to enter the pastoral ministry. He began his studies at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. but actually graduated with his Master of Divinity from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis where we had moved to pastor our first church while he was in school. Years later he earned his Doctor of Ministry degree from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio.
I’d like to share a few things about his personality. He has a great sense of humor. He has always liked being active and doing “guy things” like playing softball (our churches always had a good team and played other church teams) and riding motorcycles. He used to race motocross in his younger years until he had a run-in with a tree. Later he had a street bike, a beautiful cobalt-blue Harley Softail Custom that was his pride and joy. He would ride it every chance he got until the day a lady in a car in front of him pulled over beside the yellow line while signaling for a left turn only to turn right–into Stoner. That happened at (would you believe it?) Stone’s Falls Road. Yes, Stoner fell from his bike at Stone’s Falls Road! He slid for at least fifty feet across the asphalt and had injuries to both knees. This happened just three years ago. Today there is absolutely no pain or lack of mobility in either knee! In fact, there were no lasting injuries from the accident, and best of all, there is an old Corvette (something Stoner had always wanted) sitting in our driveway made possible by the insurance money collected for the motorcycle. Now I can ride with him! I tried the motorcycle but never liked it at all!
Another thing Stoner likes to do is cut and split firewood. He enjoys being out in the woods and doing the hard physical labor required to bring in our whole supply of wood necessary to heat our little cabin-home for winter. I go out with him and help load it onto a cart, then the truck and then we stack it near our house. It is great exercise and we always like doing things together.
In 1971, he built a dune buggy in our garage. It was bright fuschia. We were living in Indianapolis where we served our first church and he commuted to the seminary in the dune buggy. It was not long after this that we were sent to pastor a little country church south of Indianapolis. Shortly after we arrived there, the Lord sent a mighty prophet into the church. He lived on a modest farm in our area and worked for the post office as a janitor. No one would have guessed what a great gift God had placed in him for the church. He was a humble man who never exalted himself in any way. He only prophesied when the Spirit of the Lord fell upon him and when that happened, you knew God was speaking to you. It was at that time we learned that God was going to severely judge the world and everything not established in him was going to fall. We are seeing this beginning to come to pass today. If you get your news from the mainstream media you may not realize this. If you get your news from alternative news sources on the Internet, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Some of these things will be mentioned later in this article when you read what Stoner has written.
As the Lord repeatedly told us of the destruction to come, he also told us we were called to minister during that time. We thought this would happen immediately, but we are just now on the brink of all this taking place. All those years from 1972 have been years of preparation for this day of fear and destruction that is coming upon our nation. Other nations will also experience trouble, but America will be hardest hit because we have had the greatest gospel light in our nation, and we have turned our backs on Jesus Christ in many ways. We need to remember that judgment begins at the house of God (1 Pet 4:17). If the church had been salt and light in America, the onslaught of moral depravity depicted in our television shows and movies, the murder of millions of unborn children, the promotion of homosexuality, the breakdown of the family, the spread of Islam and the open worship of Satan most recently celebrated in Detroit with the unveiling of a nine-foot-tall statue of Baphomet ( http://time.com/3972713/detroit-satanic-statue-baphomet/ ) would not have taken place.
At this time I will turn this article over to Stoner because his message had to be in his own words. (This will be presented in two parts.)
All writers of religious non-fiction material are possessed with two incorruptible thoughts—one is that what they are writing is absolutely true and the other is that everyone else needs to come to this truth. Barring these self-perpetuating thoughts, there would be little passion in what was being written and scant attraction to the proffered messages. Additionally, most non-fiction religious writings—other than what are apologetic offerings for extant arguments—can easily qualify as controversial since they most likely diverge from accepted doctrine in some measure.
This can represent a major conundrum for the writer as an effort must be extended toward creating an inviting atmosphere in which potential readers choose to navigate potentially troubling waters. A major contributing factor to this problem is the summary acceptance by most believers of the teachings set forth in their respective churches and denominations. In making this point I am not promoting some kind of groundless distrust within the body of Christ toward leadership per se, but rather wanting to encourage a healthy skepticism that motivates all believers to be more “Berean-like” in their approach to knowing and living truth according to the Bible:
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11 NASB).
The very existence of over 43,000 Protestant denominations—according to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary—testifies, shamefully, to the fact that not all of the teachings and doctrines most churches are setting forth are reliably historically, biblically and theologically sound. Although factors other than doctrine contribute to the separation of believers into multitudinous factions—such as polity, liturgies, etc—it is the fundamental beliefs that form the basis for all such schisms.
For believers to align themselves inexorably and unquestioningly with particular denominations and churches reflects a mixture of spiritual naivety and intellectual dishonesty. Each of us is ultimately responsible for the “truth” held and purportedly lived. In the end when we are judged for our works, ignorance of ultimate truth will not shield us from the consequences of having followed false beliefs and errant ways. As the old saying goes, “every tub must stand on its own bottom.”
God never intended truth to be a matter of information but rather of revelation. It is easy to come by information or to be informed. However, knowing God, knowing truth requires earnest investment of our very lives. Spiritual sloth is a prime condition for deception. It’s not that truth isn’t spoken often by others but ultimately that truth will only be meaningful when it becomes one’s personal revelation. Revelation is a principal function of the Holy Spirit and therefore our relationship with the Lord is paramount in coming into all truth.
Most believers are abundantly familiar with the scriptural phrase, “The truth shall set you free.” In fact this excerpt is so widely known in general that it could be considered a cultural meme. Unfortunately, it seems few Christians appear to contextualize the phrase allowing them to derive the full import of its meaning. The verse prior to our phrase states:
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed…(Jn 8:31 KJV).
When we appropriately backtrack from our phrase, we discover two immutable conditions leading up to knowing truth that sets one free. The conditions are–continuing in the Word and being authentic disciples of Jesus. Only disciples come to know liberating truth and only those believers who “continue” in the Word are true disciples. The optimum word in this passage is “continue.” It literally means to abide, to live, to remain, to dwell. There couldn’t be a stronger emphasis here regarding the believer’s personal responsibility to be thoroughly steeped in the Word of God. One of the saddest commentaries on Christianity is believers of different persuasions passionately arguing and defending their respective positions on the grounds of hearsay without having done their own research to substantiate their own authentic revelation.
And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven (Matt 16:17 NASB).
Truth that comes by revelation becomes the substance out of which we really live our lives. Our deepest convictions are formed, defended and lived out from that truth which has been revealed to us through the Holy Spirit as we continually deepen our relationship with God.
There is a two-fold delusion under which too many believers today labor which allows for the perpetuation of unsound ecclesiology. This delusion involves the accepted belief that the church’s focus, function and form today reasonably reflect that of the pristine church and/or what the church has evolved into today is superior to what was known and practiced in the first century. Neither of these things is true but their persistence in unquestioned acceptance evidences the failure of most Christians to personally investigate and authenticate the biblical, historical and theological reality of what the church proffers as truth today.
Why are Christians so reticent to question and challenge accepted and established dogma in the church? Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When he said that, he wasn’t suggesting unquestioning people should simply end their lives. Rather, he was making the point that unexamined lives lack meaning, direction and purpose. Paul said:
Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith (2 Cor 13:5 NLT).
If in fact it is imperative that individual believers intentionally examine the substance of their belief and walk with Christ, wouldn’t it logically follow that the same would hold true regarding the corporality of believers, the body of Christ, the church? I believe the hesitation on the part of so many to question accepted church dogma issues from an intrinsic insecurity that springs from failing to have their identity, their ground of being, fully found in Christ.
Without a full persuasion of one’s acceptance in Christ, it is difficult to weather constructive criticism. Without hearing the voice of the Father to one’s own heart saying, “This is my beloved son/daughter, in whom I am well pleased,” it is nearly impossible to acknowledge and accept exposure to shortcomings or failures without being hurt (offended) and defensive. The same psychology applies to the corporate body of Christ. Persons who respond defensively to criticism of their church and beliefs with angry rebuttal usually have falsely derived a great deal of their identity from these things rather than from their relationship with Christ.
It is not my intention to summarily heap criticism upon the church or unnecessarily stir up dissention within the church. I love the church and realize the utter necessity of its proper existence and functioning for the working out of God’s eternal purpose through Christ. Concomitantly I also realize how quiescently accepting some aberration of the church can risk forfeiting the fullness of all Christ died to make possible for all of us. It is the height of naivety and denial to think that all the church is believing and practicing today is above reproach and correction. The church was still in its infancy when the Apostle Paul exposed and attacked spiritually debilitating false doctrines. He accused these purveyors of false teachings of perverting the true Gospel of Christ and proclaimed curses on anyone who presumed to do such a thing.
Understanding this, it is my heart’s desire to awaken the church to an honest self-scrutinizing awareness that fearlessly discovers its essence and calling in light of biblical, theological and historical realities. It only took the nascent church approximately three hundred years from its inception to conquer the Roman Empire. When we examine the impact of the church today upon the morals and values of our culture, we see only abject failure. Even worse than failing to reproduce Kingdom principles in the life of our nation, the church today has often been guilty of acquiescing to and embracing the fallen and corrupt values of the world. As I think of these things I am very much reminded of Dickens’ tale…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.
Charles Dickens’ introduction to his Tale of Two Cities seems so apropos for the life and circumstances we are experiencing today. Life is filled with contradictions, misinformation, false hopes, unsolvable problems and unfulfilled dreams. Yet at the same time messages abound that continue to project the sense that all is basically well and that life as we have always known it will continue to progress, grow and thrive. The common thought is that we have experienced bumps in the road before and have always bounced back, recovered and continued on with life as we’ve known it. Therefore, it will also be true for the current period of events and circumstances.
The problem is today there are two extant scenarios of present-day life coexisting and contending for your belief and acceptance. One is false and the other true. One is inwardly filled with disguise, deceit and dissembling while portraying an appealing aura of goodness and hope while the other transparently represents the harsh realities confronting us that are summarily held in contempt by the deniers. If I were to anthropomorphize our global conditions, I would say it was like a man who had the outward appearance of a decathlete while being inwardly filled with a ravaging disease set to soon destroy every aspect of his vitality.
In reality, there are not just the two scenarios I briefly described but actually three. In addition to the false picture being portrayed by our government and the mostly unperceived true conditions existing in our temporal life circumstances, there is the absolute spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom—God’s rule and reign, his eternal purpose and ongoing activities—is not subject to natural observation but is an inner reality known only through spiritual discernment. (…to be continued in Part 2)