Salvation Army Christian Recovery Techniques and the Bill W. A.A. Conversion Experiences

A.A. and the Salvation Army Influence on, and Relevance to, A.A.

By Dick B. and Ken B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

A Word about the Salvation Army Founding

The Christian organization which came to be known as the Salvation Army was founded in 1865 out of the pastoral work of a Methodist Minister, William Booth. The organization was first called the Christian Revival Association and rechristened the Salvation Army in 1878. In 1880, General William Booth and a party of Salvationists officially began the work of the Salvation Army in the United States.

General William Booth expressed the aim of the mission as follows:

The object and work of this Mission is to seek the conversion of the neglected crowds of people who are living without God and without hope, and to gather those so converted into Christian fellowship, in order that they may be instructed in Scriptural truth, trained in habits of holiness and usefulness, and watched over and cared for in their religious course. [Harold Begbie, The Life of General William Booth: The Founder of The Salvation Army, vol. 1 (NY: Macmillan, 1920), p. 363:]

Among Booth’s Articles of Faith were these:

1. We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice.
2. We believe there is only one God who is infinitely perfect, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things.
3. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has by His suffering and death made an atonement for the whole world, that whosoever will may be saved.
4. We believe that repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, are necessary to salvation.
5. We believe that we are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and that he that believeth hath the witness in himself.

Descriptions of Salvation Army Principles and Practices

In “The Role of Religious Bodies in the Treatment of Inebriety in the United States,” Rev. Francis W. McPeek–Executive Director of the Department of Social Welfare of the Federation of Churches in Washington, D.C.–said the following about the Salvation Army:

Much work was done in city missions and particularly by the Salvation Army. The Army, however, has focused its efforts on the conversion experience and has made use of its own general facilities and of other community resources when these were needed in aftercare. Those who wish to read a portrayal of the Salvation Army’s methods and approach may consult Hall’s biography of Henry F. Milans (Out of the Depth).
Generally speaking, the Salvationists have capitalized on the same techniques that have made other reform programs work: (1) Insistence on total abstinence; (2) reliance upon God; (3) the provision of new friendships among those who understand; (4) the opportunity to work with those who suffer from the same difficulty; and (5) unruffled patience and consistent faith in the ability of the individual and in the power of God to accomplish the desired ends. [Lecture 26 in “Alcohol, Science and Society: Twenty-nine Lectures with Discussions as given at the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies” (New Haven: Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1945), 414-15.]

Interestingly, A.A. cofounder Bill Wilson gave Lecture 29 at the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies in 1945. His lecture was titled “The Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Bill was credited as “W. W.”

The William James Study on “Vital Religious Experiences”

During his fourth and final stay at Towns Hospital, December 11-18, 1934, Bill Wilson was visited by his friend and “sponsor,” Ebby Thacher. Bill states in his autobiography that Ebby gave him a copy of a book by Professor William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience. Immediately following his own blazing “indescribably white light” vital religious experience, Bill wanted to know if the experience was real or if he had been insane. Bill’s doctor, psychiatrist William D. Silkworth, assured Bill that he was not insane. Dr. Silkworth told Bill that he had had a conversion experience. Bill spent almost a day reading the William James book to learn about such experiences and to confirm the validity of his own. He spent long hours in that study, as the book was voluminous. Bill mentions Professor James’ book in Alcoholics Anonymous (affectionately known within A.A. as the “Big Book.”). A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob also owned and studied the book by James. And in footnote one on page 190, it contains the following quote by Professor James about William Booth:

General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, considers that the first vital step in saving outcasts consists in making them feel that some decent human being cares enough for them to take an interest in the question whether they are to rise or sink. [(New York: Vintage Books/The Library of America, 1990)]

The Important Salvation Army Data Writteb about Henry F. Milans

Truly, Clarence W. Hall’s Out of the Depths: The Life-Story of Henry F. Milans (Salem, OH: The Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection, 1977) is a testimony to the techniques of the Salvation Army in the Bowery—a haunt that Bill Wilson was later to frequent. Out of the Depths contains powerful stories of Milans, the bum in the Bowery in 1908. Milans the newspaper man, pronounced hopelessly incurable by physicians at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Milans, present at the “Boozer’s Convention” concurrent with the dismissal of Milans from Bellevue Hospital. The biography states:

Briefly stated, a Boozer’s Convention consisted of a whole regiment of Salvationists going out at one time into the highways and byways of New York City and literally compelling all of the bums, drunkards, ne’er-do-wells and broken pieces of nondescript humanity who could be found to submit to being directed, led or carried to The Salvation Army Memorial Hall on West Fourteenth Street for the purpose of being invited, coaxed or jarred out of their hopelessness and worthlessness into conversion and good citizenship.
Though at first only an experiment, the Boozers’ Convention proved such a tremendous success that it was repeated for several succeeding years. [107]
. . .
. . . [I]t was announced [at the Hall] that food would be served in a lower hall. In sections the bums filed downstairs, Milans with them. . . .
The meeting proceeded, and when the invitation to test the power of God on broken lives was given, Milans saw about three hundred respond. . . . [120]
. . .
For a week of nights Milans attended the Army’s meetings. . . . [124]
. . .
Then on a Thursday night, just one week after the Boozer’s Meeting where he had first been touched, and convicted by the Holy Spirit, Milans surrendered.
Amid the fervent “Hallelujahs” of every Christian in the hall, he stumbled forward to the penitent-form, and there poured out his soul to God in an agony of desire—not for whiskey this time, but for deliverance from its power.
No more earnest behest ever ascended to the Throne of God from the breast of a kneeling penitent than that prayer by Milans for release from his habit. He had shaken off the hold-back straps of unbelief. He had made the plunge. . . .
. . . [H]e continued to pray; the Salvationists sang softly an encouraging refrain or two; others prayed. . . .
‘Twas the Master, and down into the depths of hell there groped a Hand—a nail-pierced Hand—which found the man it sought and lifted him out.
The miracle was performed.
He arose from his knees. . . . [125-26]
. . .
[H]e was going out to face a world of temptation and opposition. . . . [127]

. . . There, in the solitudes of the great city, on a park bench, the Presence seemed to whisper to him lovingly, “Fear not, I will help thee: I will sustain thee, for I have redeemed thee. Thou art mine!” And strength came to him.
. . .
. . . His inner man made no response to the thought of drink. It dawned upon him them that he was free! [128]
. . .
Listen to his testimony, given nineteen years later: “From that moment to the present I have never been tempted to take a drink of anything with alcohol in it.”
The appetite was gone! [129]

Readers who are familiar with Bill W.’s similar march to the altar and deliverance at Towns Hospital will recognize the similar elements in the Milans and Wilson stories. As to Wilson, in brief: (1) Dr. Silkworth had told Bill the Great Physician Jesus Christ could cure him of his alcoholism. (2) Almost immediately, Bill’s old friend—a seemingly medically incurable alcoholic named Ebby Thacher—visited Bill and told Bill that he had been staying at Calvary Mission, had gotten religion (been saved at the altar), and had been freed right there. (3) Bill decided that if the salvation ceremony at the Calvary Mission, plus Ebby’s own rebirth, could heal Ebby, perhaps the Great Physician could do the same for him. (4) After listening to Ebby’s testimony in Calvary Church, Bill went to the altar at Calvary Mission, handed his life over to Jesus Christ, and soon wrote “For sure I’d been born again.” (5) But Bill drank again, was fearful and despondent and decided that if there were a Great Physician, this would be the time to seek his help. (6) Bill checked into Towns Hospital. In his room he decided to call on the Great Physician. Soon he cried out to God for help. Bill’s room was blazing with an indescribably white light. Bill felt he was on a mountain top and sensed a presence in the room. Bill describes his two thoughts: “Bill, you are a free man. This is the God of the Scriptures.” (7) Bill stopped his previous doubting about God, was cured, and never drank again. (8) It was then that Bill studied the James accounts—many from Professor Starbuck’s studies—of healing of alcoholism by similar vital religious experiences.

The Harold Begbie Books

Perhaps the Salvation Army link with greatest impact on Alcoholics Anonymous was Harold Begbie’s book, Twice-Born Men: A Clinic in Regeneration: A Footnote in Narrative to Professor William James’s “The Varieties of Religious Experience” (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1909). The book was very much intertwined with the thinking of William James and quoted his ideas quite often. It was immensely popular in the Oxford Group-Shoemaker circles. [See Mel B., New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the Twelve Step Miracle (n.p.: Hazelden, 1991), 130-34.] It was recommended by Dr. Bob’s wife in the journal she shared with early AAs and their families. [See Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939: A.A.’s Principles of Success, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 83.] It was owned and circulated by Dr. Bob. [See Dick B., Dr. Bob and His Library: A Major A.A. Spiritual Source, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 48.] And it certainly was among the books early AAs read. [See Dick B., The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 31, 37, 58, 62.]

Begbie’s Twice-Born Men was devoted almost exclusively to Salvation Army accounts. He underlines conversions; frequent “Sinner’s Prayers”; outreach to drunks and derelicts and outcasts; amends; and the “attraction” of others by successfully reformed fighters, criminals, drunks, prisoners, and others who rose from the slums of London. Great emphasis was laid on turning to God for help, making Jesus Christ both Lord and Savior, hearing the Bible, praying, and altar calls where the penitent knelt and often was “changed” or “transformed” or “reborn” after crying out for help. And not only did early AAs read these stories; they included the techniques in the early A.A.’s Christian Fellowship program principles and practices. There is lots of comment about how the “incurable” drunks were urged to seek the power of God and then “enlist” as soldiers in the Salvation Army. On page 132 of New Wine, Mel B. states of Begbie’s book: “An important point in Twice-Born Men was that only the conversion experience—being ‘born again’—could have produced the dramatic recoveries described in the book.”

The word “Army” appears frequently in Begbie’s books, particularly Twice-Born Men. Begbie described on pages 55-61 of Twice-Born Men the work of “The Puncher”—a reformed prize-fighter—using the following language. “He [the Puncher] had said, ‘I’m going to join the Army.’” “The wonder of the Puncher is what Salvationists call his ‘love for souls’. . . which means ‘the intense and concentrated passion for the unhappiness which visits a man who has discovered the only means of obtaining happiness.’” “The Puncher was not content with the joy of having his own soul saved; he wanted to save others.” “The Puncher has spent hours and pounds trying to reach his old companions.” “He receives no pay from the Army. He is not an officer, he is a soldier—a volunteer.”

Harold Begbie was also the author of a two-volume biography of General William Booth titled: The Life of General William Booth: The Founder of The Salvation Army. (London: Macmillan, 1920).

The Research of, and appraisal by, the Rev.Dr. Howard Clinebell, Claremont professor of theology who did an extensive survey of A.A. and of healings by the power of God. Dr. Clinebell asked Dick B. to review the book manuscript for accuracy as to A.A. and then further asked Dick to endorse the book itself

There is an important study of the effectiveness of the Salvation Army in the field of overcoming alcoholism and addictions. The Reverend Howard J. Clinebell, Ph.D. (now deceased), was a highly-regarded Professor Emeritus at the School of Theology in Claremont, California. [See Howard Clinebell, Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictions, Revised and Enlarged Edition (Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1998).] Dr. Clinebell asked me (Dick B.) to review his preparation of the Alcoholics Anonymous portion and then to endorse the book itself. On page 189 of Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictions, Clinebell had this to say about the Salvation Army:

In my judgment, the Salvation Army, together with some more enlightened rescue missions, represent evangelistic addiction therapy at its best. . . . There is convincing evidence that some facilities have remarkable success in getting and keeping countless formerly homeless, low-bottom addicts sober and living constructive lives.

Clinebell points out on pages 188-89 of his book that in the early 1940’s, the Salvation Army put its recovery principles into the following series of nine Christian-oriented steps paralleling some of the important Twelve Steps of A.A.-modeled recovery programs:

1. The alcoholic must realize that he is unable to control his addiction and that his life is completely disorganized.
2. He must acknowledge that only God, his Creator, can re-create him as a decent man.
3. He must let God through Jesus Christ rule his life and resolve to live according to His will.
4. He must realize that alcohol addiction is only a symptom of basic defects in his thinking and living, and that the proper use of every talent he possesses is impaired by his enslavement.
5. He should make public confession to God and man of past wrong-doing and be willing to ask God for guidance in the future.
6. He should make restitution to all whom he has willfully and knowingly wronged.
7. He should realize that he is human and subject to error, and that no advance is made by covering up a mistake; he should admit failure and profit by experience.
8. Since, through prayer and forgiveness, he has found God, he must continue prayerful contact with God and seek constantly to know His will.
9. Because The Salvation Army believes that the personal touch and example are the most vital forces in applying the principles of Christianity, he should be made to work continuously not only for his own salvation but to effect the salvation of others like himself.

The Vital Religious Experience Element in Early A.A. Cures

In Dick B., Real Twelve Step Fellowship History (http://dickb.com/realhistory.shtml), I have summarized the early Akron A.A. requirement of a “real surrender.” One that confirmed acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior as an essential part of the Akron recovery program:

In order to belong to the Akron fellowship, newcomers had to make a “real surrender.” This was akin to the altar call at rescue missions [and at the Salvation Army Halls], or the confession of Christ with other believers in churches [and revival gatherings]. But it was a very small, private ceremony which took place upstairs in the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams, and away from the regular meeting. Four A.A. old-timers (Ed Andy from Lorain, Ohio; J.D. Holmes from Indiana; Clarence Snyder from Cleveland; and Larry Bauer from Akron) have all independently verified orally and/or in writing that the Akron surrenders required acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Those conversions took place at the regular, weekly, Wednesday meeting in a manner similar to that described in James 5:15-16. Kneeling, with “elders” at his side, the newcomer accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior; and, with the prayer partners, asked God to take alcohol out of his life and to help, guide, and strengthen him to live by cardinal Christian teachings such as those in the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes—Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love.

The Sanctification Element for Which the Salvation Army Drew Praise

There is no need here to discuss the difference between conversion, salvation, and sanctification. But see Stanford Professor Edwin Diller Starbuck’s The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Study of the Growth of Religious Consciousness (London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd., n.d.), for which William James wrote the Preface. Starbuck shows why the Salvation Army’s continuity of the new life program drew praise. William James often quoted Starbuck in The Varieties of Religious Experience, a book that Bill Wilson avidly read immediately following his conversion experience at Towns Hospital.

Starbuck wrote about “The Line of Growth Following Conversion.” This “sanctification” element is something that both the Salvation Army program and the Alcoholics Anonymous “continuance” or “maintenance” Steps stressed. Neither organization considered the life change complete simply because there had been a “surrender” or a “conversion” or a “life change.” Thus a conversion might be said to have existed at the conclusion of A.A.’s Step Three decision or its Step Seven “removal of shortcomings.” Look at First Century Christianity in the Book of Acts. Look at the Oxford Group life-changing program and the Oxford Group’s early and long-standing name for itself (A First Century Christian Fellowship). Look at Rev. Shoemaker’s definition of a spiritual awakening. Shoemaker said a spiritual awakening had four elements–prayer, conversion, fellowship, and witness. In Acts, the Salvation Army, the Oxford Group, and Shoemaker’s spiritual awakening, there remained the daily need for continued fellowship, continued prayer, continued Scripture work, continued removal of evil conduct, continued contact with God, and continued witnessing to others.

Of these, Professor Starbuck said:

. . . [I]n regard to the post-conversion period . . . [t]he nerve tracts involved in the old life are perhaps structurally as much a part of the person’s make-up just after conversion as are his arms or legs. . . . [T]he old neural channels are there to assume their former functions the moment the new are off guard. The old may cease, but only by becoming hopelessly enslaved and subordinated to the new, or by withering up and dying for want of exercise. [p. 362]

The futility of expecting a new insight to become permanent, however genuine it may be, without following it up with conduct that works the new life over into neural habit is apparent on the face of it. The new must be drilled in as indelibly as was the old. The Salvation Army has caught the secret of it. They set the convert by every means available to the task of cultivating nervous discharges in the brain areas connected with the spiritual life. He is to make the higher life habitual. [pp. 362-63]

Compare 2 Corinthians 5:17—the new man in Christ; and James 2:20—faith without works is dead. Then James 1:12, 22—Blessed is the man that endureth temptation. . . . [B]e ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

A Synopsis of Salvation Army Contributions to Christian Recovery and A.A.

As with many of the other successful Christian recovery approaches, the Salvation Army practices can be summarized as follows:

• As to alcoholism and addiction: Recognize, Concede, Decide
• Establish a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and then rely on the power of God
• Obey God’s will–walk in love and eliminate sinful conduct
• Grow in one’s relationship with God through the Bible study and prayer
• Once reformed, help others still afflicted
• Fellowship with like-minded believers
• Witness as to the effectiveness of salvation and the new life in Christ

Elements of Applying the Salvation Army Origins in Recovery Today

• For Christians in the recovery movement today, stress the importance of God, a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ, the Bible as an absolutely essential guide, and working with others as a mission.
• Point out the five elements described in Rev. McPeek’s Yale lecture
• Share the recovery principles set forth by Dr. Clinebell
• Make known the advice physician William D. Silkworth gave to his patient Bill Wilson that Jesus Christ, the “Great Physician” could cure Bill’s alcoholism, that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ was necessary, and that a ”vital
religious experience could bring about the healing.
• Highlight the seven-point summary of the early A.A. program set forth by Frank Amos and published in A.A.’s own DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers on page 131.

http://www.dickb.com/conversion.shtml; http://www.dickb.com; dickb@dickb.com; 808 874 4876

Gloria Deo

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About mauihistorian

Uses pen name Dick B.: Writer, Historian, Retired attorney, Bible student, CDAAC, and active and recovered A.A. member with over 25 years of continuous sobriety. Published 42 titles and over 650 articles on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Christian Recovery Movement. www.dickb.com
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