Ch 3: A Soldier in Active Service

  • Author: Mark S. Mitchell

In September 1940, Congress approved the Selective Training and Service Act, authorizing the first peacetime draft in United States history, and requiring all men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five to register. Ray Stedman originally received a deferred draft classification because of his intention to enter full-time Christian service, but with the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the twenty-four-year-old requested that his classification be changed so that he might join the war effort. Ray wanted to enlist in the Navy, but one of the requirements was correctable vision, and after a physical examination he was declared ineligible because of astigmatism.

At that time it was not unusual for young men to be rejected from Selective Service. In fact, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor more than five million men were rejected for physical, emotional, or educational deficiencies. The rejection rate was so high that in 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt convened a national conference to investigate the matter. The conference concluded that the main reasons men were being rejected from service were bad teeth and bad eyes, both of which could be traced to the lack of basic medical care and adequate nutrition during the recent Depression. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, far fewer men received deferments or rejections.(Ronald H. Bailey and William K. Goolrick, ed., World War II. The Home Front (USA), vol. 8 (Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books Inc., 1978), 45.)

After being rejected by the Navy, Ray decided to serve his country as part of the civilian labor force. World War II affected every aspect of life in the United States. Industry, education, agriculture, transportation, and even the entertainment business enlisted for "the duration." U.S. industrial war production was a major factor in deciding the outcome of the war, and the War Manpower Commission, organized in April 1942, was in charge of recruiting workers for defense industries.(Maurice Isserman and John Bowman, gen. ed., World War II (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1991),76.) Ray Stedman was hired to work on the paint crew of a company responsible for building facilities for the armed forces in the Hawaiian Islands.

In the summer of 1942, "after a long, wearisome trip by bus across the great deserts of Utah and Nevada," Ray arrived in Oakland, California.(Ray Stedman, letter to Beulah Sheets, July 5,1942.) While he waited for his ship to be ready to sail for Hawaii, he and a friend traveled across the bay to San Francisco and saw the sights. Meanwhile, Ray's hotel bill at the Hotel San Pablo was paid by the military. They also paid him seventy cents an hour plus two dollars a day for spending money. "This is the softest job I've ever had," Ray told his aunt Beulah.(Ibid.)

Not long after arriving in Hawaii and beginning his work as a painter, Ray once again immersed himself in ministry whenever he could, and by December he was preaching at a church in downtown Honolulu.

"Tomorrow [Sunday] I have to preach downtown," he wrote to Elaine on December 26. "Sometime, if you're kind to me and answer my letters, I'll tell you my dreams for a real gospel work here in Honolulu. And they're in the making now." (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Smith, December 26,1942.) Just a few months later, Ray and some friends began producing a radio broadcast called "Hymn Time," which aired from 9:30 to 9:45 each Sunday morning. It featured a hymn, the story behind the hymn, a short message, and an invitation to accept Jesus as Savior.

"I have been much gratified with the success of the program thus far," Ray glowed in his report to Elaine. "The station manager told us it was by far the best gospel program on the air, of local origin, which was encouraging, though only so many words if the program fails in its efforts to reach souls for Christ. Pray for it, will you?" (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Smith, February 15, 1943.)

A Dream Come True

DESPITE HIS FRUITFUL MINISTRY, Ray still longed to be in full-time work, and in the spring of 1944 it seemed that God was finally opening the door. By this time, Ray's study of the Scriptures resulted in his moving away from Pentecostalism, and he made Olivet Baptist Church his home church and place of ministry. One of the leaders of Olivet Baptist Church indicated to Ray that they would like to ordain him and find him a pastorate in Texas where he could also attend the Southern Baptist seminary in Fort Worth. Ray was ecstatic and immediately sought to have his draft classification changed to allow for the move. His letter to Elaine about the matter reflects both his excitement over the opportunity and his concern that his patriotism not be in question: "Personally, I cannot help but feel that it is the Lord's moving. There was only one reason, it seemed to me, for hesitating. I am not a slacker and I recognize my duty to my country. . . . there are still several obstacles to overcome, but I sincerely hope and pray that the moment for which I've waited 5 years might be at hand. I honestly feel that he who preaches the gospel from a pulpit in America is fighting full force for the same ideals and liberties for which sailors and soldiers are dying abroad." (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Smith, March 27,1944.)

Within a few days, however, Ray once again had to surrender his future to the Lord as the church decided to license him rather than ordain him. "This is a disappointment to me," he confessed, "but I fancy the Lord will see the matter through." (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Smith, April 12, 1944.) On the positive side, the entire incident served to ignite a renewed hope that he would indeed one day enter full-time ministry.

During the following weeks, another opportunity was presented to Ray: an office job with Libby, McNeil, & Libby. He accepted, and his new employer quickly recognized his abilities and offered him a position as a junior executive. This was a tempting offer for Ray, who had lived with financial pressure for so long, but he turned it down for another opportunity closer to his heart. Ray had developed a close friendship with a Navy officer named Ed Phillips. Ed was involved with the work of the Navigators, an interdenominational organization active with military personnel, and he was eager for Ray to join him in leading the thriving Navigator ministry. For Ray, this was a dream come true.

"This is the work I would love most to do in all the world," he told Elaine. "It is close to the servicemen, with a definite Navy atmosphere; is extremely important from the standpoint of both Christian service and patriotic endeavor; and is a work in which I could labor without reserve." (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Smith, May 12, 1944.) Years later, Ray would reflect on this period as being the most carefree time of his life.

The Navigators had been active in Hawaii for years, but when Dawson Trotman, founder of the organization, visited the island in April 1940, he found the work in a sad state. Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor, which created a tremendous spiritual hunger among servicemen, and attendance at Bible studies soon swelled. When Trotman returned to Pearl Harbor in January 1945, he found the largest Navigator work anywhere in the world, and Ed Phillips and Ray Stedman were two of the "faithful men." Ray and Ed even arranged a meeting for Dawson with the chief of Navy chaplains, who was passing through Honolulu on his way to the war area.(Betty Lee Skinner, Daws (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974), 163-164,260-261.)

"It was my privilege and delight to be a close friend of Dawson Trotman, to have spent a good deal of time with him and to come under the influence of his teaching and his methods," Ray said years later, describing his involvement with the work of the Navigators and his friendship with Daws. "The Navigators in those days did a great work in the Navy throughout the whole of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and hundreds of young men were led to Christ through their efforts during the war years. I used to attend a Navigator group which met in Honolulu on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes two or three hundred sailors, all of them Christians, would be there. We had some great meetings and great times together. It was a glorious work." (See Ray's message Behind Divisions from March 19, 1978)

But after spending time in Hawaii in 1945, Dawson Trotman became convinced that too much emphasis was being placed on group meetings and not enough on "man-to-man" time, when men could be taught to teach others according to the pattern of 2 Timothy 2:2. ''All key hands have been made to see that for the most part meetings, meetings, meetings have practically robbed all of them of time alone with men. Remedies are being made gladly." (Skinner, Daws, 262-263.) Ray took this counsel to heart, and the Navigators' emphasis on personal Bible study and one-on-one discipleship influenced him tremendously. He would later apply this method in his years of ministry at Peninsula Bible Church.

RAY'S INVOLVEMENT WITH THE Navigators and with Ed Phillips soon brought more changes in his life and even in his theology. Ed strongly urged Ray to enlist in the Navy so that he could reach fellow servicemen who were facing the very real possibility of losing their lives in the war. As an officer, Ed was able to help Ray enlist in June 1944 as a Second Class Petty Officer without having to go through boot camp. Both men had a passion to disciple servicemen in their walk with Christ. Recognizing the gulf that existed between officers and enlisted men, they agreed that Ed would focus his work on officers and Rayon enlisted men. Many of these enlisted men would naturally look up to Ray who, at age twenty-seven, commanded their respect.

During his next two years in the Navy, the clerical skills Ray had developed during his year in Chicago served him well as he worked in the Ships Service Department and in the legal office of the Navy as a court reporter.(Elaine Stedman, interview by author, July 15,2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.) Yet Ray always viewed his enlistment as an open door for ministry.

''Although I was unsure whether I was doing the right thing or not, I felt I ought to join," Ray would later say about his enlistment. "What I did not understand or realize was that the action I took would open a door which gave me what was perhaps the greatest opportunity I have ever had to teach the Scriptures to those who were in desperate need of such teaching. I was stationed at Pearl Harbor, and through that great port there passed from time to time all the sailors of the Pacific Fleet, many of them Christian young men who had won others to Christ aboard their ships. Along with others, I had the opportunity to have great Bible classes, with hundreds of sailors involved. All this was opened up to me because I was a member of the United States Navy myself" (See Ray's message Can We Trust Government? from November 21, 1982)

But along with the light of God's leading came some challenging moments of conflict in his ministry. In the summer of 1945, Ray became involved with a group of men who brought serious allegations of intimidation, pride, financial misdealing, lying, and gossip against Dawson Trotman. Although many of the allegations were true, one does detect in Ray's letters a strong note of spiritual pride as well.

Many painful letters were exchanged between Ray, Ed Phillips, and others and Dawson.(Ray Stedman, letter to Dawson Trotman, July 26,1945.) Even though Dawson wrote a letter to these men in Hawaii saying, "I am guilty," Ray and several others believed that his actions revealed that he had not truly repented. Finally, a mimeographed open letter addressed to "The Church," presenting proof of Dawson's guilt and calling on him to repent, was sent to hundreds of people. In time, Dawson would come to see this as God's needed chastening in his life, and Ray would come to deeply appreciate Dawson's ministry, but it would take two years for the air to be cleared between Ray and Dawson.(Skinner, Daws, 267-270.)

Changing Theology

ANOTHER SIGNIFICANT CHANGE FOR Ray during this time was in the area of theology. As he studied the Scriptures, he began to question much of the teaching and practice of the Pentecostal church, and the teaching he received at Olivet Baptist Church only bolstered his developing convictions. To put it another way: "He studied himself out of the Pentecostal perspective." (Elaine Stedman.)

When Ray described his opportunity with the Baptist church and his hope of eventually attending seminary in Texas, Elaine expressed her concern: "I feel that affiliation with this denomination would permit you to minister a glorious salvation message, but would it not prove a 'bushel' to the light on the baptism of the Spirit?" (Elaine Smith, letter to Ray Stedman, April 5, 1944.) Ray responded with a lengthy letter describing his shift in thinking, as well as his concern that somehow this issue would prove to be an obstacle in their relationship.

"I made a change from the Pentecostal to the Baptist church after much, much deliberation and prayer," Ray wrote to Elaine. "That change was made because I found myself increasingly at variance with Pentecostal methods. I have many sincere and valued friends in Full Gospel churches and I have never regretted the time I spent in such churches. It has given me a depth of understanding and tolerance I could have gained in no other way. I hope to share a lifelong fellowship with Pentecostal people, but I personally cannot work under their banner. I detest denominationalism thoroughly and irrevocably and have little patience with men who constantly blow a denominational trumpet. Nevertheless, I recognize the fact of denominations and recognize that for the sake of harmony and fellowship a man should associate himself with a denomination that will allow him to preach as he understands the Bible and does not interpose obstacles in the form of church behavior to which he cannot agree. For that reason, I have chosen the Baptist church and since I have made that choice I have been much happier and have found a greatly broadened field for my preaching message." (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Smith, April 12, 1944.)

Although the day would come when Ray would challenge the very core of the Pentecostal understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, at this point his issues had more to do with practical matters:

"Let me make it clear that I do not differ as much in doctrine as I do in practice. I most definitely recognize that the Bible teaches a Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace. I recognize the Spirit's power and His presence and the Lord's command that each believer should be filled with the Spirit, but I often feel that Full Gospel churches are often guilty of quenching and grieving the Spirit by their insistence on only one form of His manifestations. As a pastor of a Baptist church or any other church, I shall definitely stand forth with regard to the necessity of the Spirit-filled life but I will place emphasis upon receiving the Spirit Himself and leave to Him the manner in which He makes Himself manifest." (Ibid.)

Another important change in Ray's theological development at this time grew out of the influence of the Navigators. Ray's description of a "typical Navigator" offers a telling clue: "You could always tell a Navigator because. . . he had a Scofield Reference Bible tucked under his arm. This Bible was pushed by the Navigators, and everybody had to have one. Since I was working at that time in the ship's service department in Pearl Harbor, we ordered great quantities of these Bibles. They were hard to get in those war years, and every shipment that came in went out like hotcakes. Every Navigator had to have a Scofield Reference Bible; that was the only Authorized Version. (See Ray's message Behind Divisions from March 19, 1978)

The Scofield Reference Bible played a significant role in Ray's developing dispensational theology. Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921) pastored a small Congregational church in Dallas, Texas, and in 1907 he began to lecture at the Correspondence Bible School in Dallas (later to become Dallas Theological Seminary). Scofield was an avid proponent of dispensationalism. Although dispensationalists would later influence Pentecostals, especially in the area of prophecy, they stood against the traditional Pentecostal teaching on the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the normalcy of what they called "sign gifts" (tongues, healing, miracles) for the church. Scofield and other dispensationalists taught that the baptism of the Holy Spirit took place in a believer's life upon conversion and that the sign gifts had ceased after the first generation of Christians died. The Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909, consisted of Scofield's annotations and explanations, which incorporated this doctrine.(Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, vol. 2 (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, a division of Doubleday, 1975), 279-280.)

Ray's dispensationalist theology would become more refined later when he trained at Dallas Theological Seminary. But his initial shift away from Pentecostal theology and practice took place in Hawaii through his study of Scripture, as well as through the influence of the Navigators and the Baptist church.

A Man in Love

SOMETHING ELSE OF SIGNIFICANCE occurred during Ray's time in Hawaii-a rekindling of his relationship with Elaine Smith. Soon after arriving in Hawaii, he wrote to her for the first time in two years.

"Do you mind if I write to you?" he said. "I know that the last time I saw you or heard from you was over two years ago, but, if I remember correctly, I owed you a letter then-so here it is. Besides, out here sometimes I get lonesome and would like someone to talk to. I hope you don't mind." (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Smith, December 26,1942.)

This began a correspondence that continued for the next two years, and their letters are marked by an increasing affection, warmth, and intimacy. In April 1944, Ray proposed marriage, but Elaine wanted to wait until he returned from Hawaii to determine her response. Ray was a man in love and used all his long-distance persuasive powers:

"You're a perfectly wonderful person and you don't know how greatly I long to see you. Time drags with leaden feet when I allow myself to dream of what the future may bring. . . .I hope to tell you someday how the very thought of you has been a steadying influence on me. Please know, dear, that I love you sincerely, honestly, wholly and only you. I feel that between you and me there is a sense of mutual understanding deeper than can be accounted for by our short personal acquaintance and our correspondence. I'm not going to put you on the spot again by asking a direct question, because I know and fully understand and agree with your attitude about it, but I want you to know, nevertheless, that if you should change your mind and not want to wait till I return and we see each other again, that engagement ring is still waiting and will be sent " posthaste at your request.(Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Smith, April 21, 1944.)

Interestingly enough, Dawson Trotman played a role in moving Elaine one step closer to accepting Ray's proposal. In January 1945, when Dawson arrived in Hawaii, he noticed a photograph of Elaine on Ray's desk and inquired about it. Ray explained that Elaine was not only his sweetheart but also a secretary for the Montana Branch Manager of the Standard Oil Company of New York. Daws asked Ray if she might be willing to come work for him in Los Angeles as a secretary on the Navigator staff. This request proved to be providential, as Elaine had by now begun her own journey out of the Pentecostal church.

"There were questions raised in my mind about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit," Elaine recalls, "because I had been listening to The Old Fashioned Revival Hour, and Dr. Fuller was doing this wonderful series on the Holy Spirit. I had never heard anything like it! I was intrigued by it. But, of course, we'd always been told that we had the ultimate experience; so I really felt very guilty about it, and I told myself. . . that I was just listening to it for the music, because the music was so wonderful." (Elaine Stedman.)

The Old Fashioned Revival Hour was a nondenominational, fundamentalist radio broadcast begun in 1923 by evangelist Dr. Charles E. Fuller.(Martin E. Marty, "The Electronic Church," in Eerdmans' Handbook to Christianity in America (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983),478.) Although it had broad appeal, it was considered heretical by the Pentecostal movement because Fuller did not align with their teaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As a result, Elaine's pastor put her on trial for heresy. "He didn't want me listening to anyone but him," Elaine recalls, "and was highly offended when a friend told him I was listening to The Old Fashioned Revival Hour. When he called me before the church elders, he presented a list of mostly made-up accusations. I had been virtually a volunteer assistant pastor, and he said I could continue to attend the church but could have no more ministry. He was later found to have embezzled money from the church, and soon after he resigned died of a heart attack." (Elaine Stedman, e-mail to author, November 11,2003.)

Elaine's own growing uneasiness with Pentecostal theology coincided with Ray's prodding her to join Dawson Trotman and the Navigators in Los Angeles. When she finally accepted the position and began working for the Navigators in February 1945, she lived with the rest of the staff and the Trotmans at a large home in South Pasadena provided by, of all things, The Old Fashioned Revival Hour! Elaine's new office was at the old Willard Hotel, which served as both an office for the Navigator staff and a meeting place for the Church of the Open Door, soon to be pastored by Dr. J. Vernon McGee. Elaine also immediately benefited from a visiting teacher, Dr. Jack Mitchell, who was teaching the Navigator staff on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Elaine's work with the Navigators proved to be the catalyst she needed to further her relationship with Ray. In September 1945, after finally accepting Ray's marriage proposal, she moved to Hawaii to continue working for the Navigators and to get to know the man with whom she had been corresponding for five years and with whom she now planned to spend the rest of her life. Upon her arrival in Hawaii and prior to their wedding, Elaine stayed in the home of Pastor Victor Koon of the Olivet Baptist Church where Ray served as a deacon. Elaine also worked as a secretary for Harold DeGroff, who was in charge of the Navigator Home in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, the leadership of Ray's church had been urging him to attend the Southern Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and even offered to finance his education. But Ray was beginning to have doubts about Southern Baptist polity, and an incident involving Elaine brought it to a head. Before Elaine could become a member of the church, she was required to be rebaptized. Although Ray himself had been allowed to become a member without being rebaptized, the church had since transitioned from a mission church to a denominational church and they now required all members to be baptized in a Southern Baptist church. Ray stood on principle against this.

"Ray would come to pick me up for a date," Elaine remembers, "and he'd be downstairs having some long debate with the pastor over this issue, while I'm upstairs in my room wondering, 'What in the world is going on?' because I wasn't invited into the debate. And I remember kneeling on my bed and saying, 'Lord, is this the man you want me to marry?' and as clear as though it were an audible voice, He said, 'Yes, and this is the way it's going to be."'(Elaine Stedman.)

Ray and Elaine were married on October 22,1945, in a beautiful garden wedding at the campus of the Olivet Baptist Bible Training School. When they left Hawaii in May of 1946, they left as soldiers who had been in active service for Christ. Now, as they made plans for the future, they were looking for their Master's orders as to where they could best serve Him next.

Title: Ch 3: A Soldier in Active Service Author: Mark S. Mitchell
   Date:2004
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