In Memory of

Pastor Cornelius R. Stam

1908-2003

Reminiscences by Ken Morgan

Pastor Stam at Age 80

Pastor Stam at Age 80

Pastor Stam was one of my most important early mentors as a teenager, probably second only to Pastor Donald Elifson, with whom he was a life-long friend. It all came about through a most interesting set of circumstances: my parents were having a garage built at our house in River Grove, a near suburb of Chicago.

Our home church was River Grove Bible Church, an IFCA church (Independent Fundamental Churches of America), where I attended until sometime during my junior year in high school. Now the IFCA was dispensational, and during my first two years in high school, I had become quite interested in Bible study. By 1963 I had acquired a number of theological books in my library, including several by Dr. M. R. DeHaan, also a dispensationalist. Thus, having been raised in an IFCA church and having read DeHaan, I considered dispensationalism to be right theology.

It was also in 1963 that my parents decided to have a garage built. As it happened, however, one of the carpenters working on our garage was Don Eckley, a member of North Shore Church on Chicago's north side. While he was working, we somehow got into a discussion of dispensationalism. North Shore Church, which had been pastored by J. C. O'Hair from 1923 to 1956, represented a different branch of dispensational theology than the more common view represented by the IFCA, the writings of DeHaan, C. I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, and Charles Ryrie, and institutions like Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary. After my initial conversation with Don Eckley, I did some superficial research and presented him with a little booklet against the position of O'Hair. Some days later, he arrived at our house on his own time and not at all in his carpenter's clothes. It was at that point he introduced me to the Berean Bible Society, also in Chicago.

I then gave considerable study to dispensationalism and soon adopted the view of O'Hair, generally called within its own circles the Grace Movement, but also somewhat pejoratively called hyper-dispensationalism or ultra-dispensationalism by those who disagree with it. Odd how theological positions sometimes acquire "hyper" names, which their adherents, usually rightly so, believe to be inaccurate! There's another rather notorious example of this phenomenon: what is correctly and legitimately called "Calvinism" is at times called by some who disagree with one or more aspects of it, "hyper-Calvinism." Be that as it may, this variety of dispensationalism remained my view through my years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. However, in the years following seminary, I did leave dispensationalism, of any variety, as a theological system.

But here is another phenomenon that often occurs among theologians. It often happens that when someone leaves one theological system for one of its alternatives, he often becomes a vehement opponent of his original position, breaking all ties to those still holding that position. This apparently was the case with Philip Mauro when he left dispensationalism. I never felt that way. My writings now take positions and argue against some aspects of dispensationalism, but it is done on a non-emotional, scholarly level without personal attacks. I've also remained good friends with many dispensationalists over the years. It happens that my theology is still closely aligned with dispensational views on a number of issues: we agree on the proper hermeneutical approach to Scripture, the glorious future of ethnic, national Israel as promised in the Old Testament covenants and prophets, and I remain adamantly premillennial. Nevertheless, Carol and I have spent many years attending PCA churches (Presbyterian Church in America) because of my Calvinistic soteriology. I've had the best of Christian relationships with those amillennial pastors, and we have thoroughly enjoyed needling each other.

Perhaps I have gone off on a tangent here, but I wanted to stress my life-long respect for a great servant of the Lord and student of the Bible, Pastor Cornelius R. Stam. Let's go back, then, to some of my fondest memories of this early mentor who has had such an influence on me.

BBS--The Early Days in Chicago

BBS-The Early Days in Chicago

Pastor Stam's first pastorate was in Preakness, New Jersey, and it was there that The Berean Searchlight magazine began as an outgrowth of a small church bulletin containing a brief weekly Bible lesson by Pastor Stam. With the help of the church, it grew into a monthly Bible-study magazine. Then in 1945, Pastor Stam and his first wife Henrietta (who called him "Neil," by the way) moved to Milwauke, Wisconsin, to join Charles F. Baker in founding Milwaukee Bible Institute. After five years at MBI, Pastor Stam resigned in order to devote himself full-time to the Searchlight. In 1952, the Berean Bible Society, "An organization for the Promotion of Bible Study," was formed with a board of directors and Pastor Stam as founding president. A year later BBS moved to Chicago on West Belmont Avenue.

BBS As I First Saw It

BBS As I First Saw It

However, the building had already expanded when I first saw it. After talking with Don Eckley, I went to BBS and bought Pastor Stam's four-volume commentary on the Book of Acts. I remember noticing that the inside was absolutely neat as a pin. Later as a volunteer at BBS, I observed that this was one of Pastor Stam's personal characteristics: he was extremely meticulous, neat, and well-organized.

So I read this commentary on Acts. Several questions came to mind, and I returned to BBS to ask them. Ralph Balog generally managed the walk-in bookstore, and he and I discussed my questions. However, at one point he volunteered to ask Pastor Stam if he would come up front and talk with me. That was the first time we met. He was tall and projected a most impressive image. He was also very kind and graciously answered my questions.

November, 1963 Berean Searchlight

November, 1963, Berean Searchlight

By late 1963, I was on the mailing list for The Berean Searchlight. However, by then the Berean Bible Society had a number of outreach ministries in addition to the Searchlight.

First, there was a telephone ministry where one could call a special number and hear a brief recorded devotional Bible lesson. Pastor Stam had these cards printed up:

Call-in Card

There was also "Two Minutes with the Bible," spearheaded by Ralph Balog. This was a weekly article written by Pastor Stam and placed in hundreds of newspapers across the country. You can read one of his articles, "Why God Permits His Children to Suffer," in the table below. Here's the logo that appeared in the newspapers with each article:

Two Minutes with the Bible

There were a number of other ministries back then as well. One was a free tape-lending library from which you could borrow tapes of Pastor Stam's expository messages through various books of the New Testament. The tapes of the series you requested were mailed to you, and you would be responsible for returning them. Another was BBS's radio ministry. Pastor Stam would tape messages at BBS, some 15 minutes long and others 30 minutes, and these would be broadcast on various AM and FM stations. As of 1965, there were 25 radio outlets.

During my senior year in high school, 1964-65, I did volunteer work at BBS. That's me in the picture below on the left in the September, 1964, issue of a small newsletter put out by BBS entitled "What's Happening Here."

Me at BBS

While working at BBS, I heard quite a lot about another important figure in the Grace Movement, Don Elifson, pastor of Norwood Bible Church, also in Chicago and not too far from BBS. At some point during that last year in high school, I began attending, and thus began a friendship that lasted until Pastor Elifson went to be with the Lord.

Pastor Stam in His Study

I have been a bibliofile since my early high school years. You can perhaps image, then, the awe I felt when I first saw Pastor Stam's library.

By the time I graduated from high school, I had read all of Pastor Stam's books that he had written up to that point. He was an excellent writer: clear, concise, and, of course, well organized. Writing has been one of my own life-long pursuits, and I learned much about writing from reading Pastor Stam's books--technical details such as wording, idioms, sentence structure, the use of headings, and many others too numerous to mention.

During Pastor Stam's 70-year ministry, he wrote more than 30 books and many more booklets. His most popular book throughout all those years and even to date has been Things That Differ, a general introduction to dispensationalism as well as to the distinctive variety represented by the Grace Movement.

Speaking of books, there were two books that Pastor Stam highly recommended that I obtain. One was The Silence of God (1897) by Sir Robert Anderson and the other was The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (1851) by W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson. Upon that recommendation, I added them to my library while still in high school. Carol has reviewed both of them on our Book Review page on this Web site.

Letter from Pastor Stam

Pastor Stam and I continued our friendship through the years. In 1973 when Carol and I married, he gave us a wedding present. In 1974 in response to a question I asked him, he kindly responded by letter. Here I reproduced only the letterhead and salutation, but it does show the warm friendship we had.

Pastor Stam was born into a Dutch family. In 1977 when Carol and I were living in Minnesota, we were pleased to meet Peter Stam, one of his brothers. Peter was a member of a Christian Reformed Church, a denomination theologically Calvinistic and Dutch in origin. Another brother had been a missionary to China with the China Inland Mission. John and Betty Stam were murdered by Chinese communists in 1934 during the Chinese Civil War.

Pastor Stam as I Remember Him

Pastor Stam believed the Lord had called him to a ministry of "the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery" (Romans 16:25). To that ministry he was faithful throughout his life.

As I am getting older, it is somewhat sad to think of the number of my mentors and friends who are no longer here but with the Lord. Yes, sad for me, but not for them. In his eulogy for Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis said, "Our loss is not his, for he now enjoys the rewards of a life well spent, and a never-waivering trust in a risen Saviour." That describes Pastor Stam as well.

This picture is how I will always remember him.

The Berean Bible Society is still a going concern. However, in 1993, the same year Pastor Stam retired, it moved from my beloved hometown of Chicago to Germantown, Wisconsin. You can visit their Web site at BereanBibleSociety.org.

The story of the martyrdom of John and Betty Stam has been told in several books: for example, The Triumph of John and Betty Stam by Mrs. Howard Taylor (China Inland Mission, 1935).

Articles and Books by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam

Brief Description

Title

Two Minutes with the Bible

"Is Our Wisdom Foolishness?"

Two Minutes with the Bible

"Why God Permits His Children to Suffer"

Man: His Nature and Destiny

In systematic theology the subject of eschatology divides into two parts: general eschatology, which treats issues such as the rapture, the future of Israel, and the millennium, and personal eschatology, which treats issues such as the nature of death, the intermediate state, the nature of the resurrection, and eternal punishment. While the former receives a lot of attention in theological literature, the latter receives very little. The book, Man: His Nature and Destiny (1961) is a welcome exception. It deals primarily with personal eschatology, but it does include some comment on the timing of the resurrections and judgments. That topic is part of general eschatology, and Pastor Stam takes a dispensational view.

Chapters ten and eleven are extremely interesting and helpful. Chapter ten addresses the view called universal reconciliation, which claims that all will eventually be saved by the atoning work of Jesus, and chapter eleven presents the argument against the view called conditional immortality, which holds that the wicked are annihilated rather than suffer eternal punishment. Jehovah's Witnesses teach a version of this view.

Chapter X
Universal Reconciliation

Chapter XI
Conditional Immortality


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