A.A.’s Christian Predecessors

A.A.’s Christian Predecessors

Excerpted from:

A Guidebook to
“Bill W., Dr. Bob, and the Cure of Alcoholism: The Rest of the Story”

A Video Class by Dick B. and Ken B.
© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved

The Vermont of Dr. Bob and Bill W.’s Youth

T. D. Seymour Bassett’s book, The Gods of the Hills, is a scholarly, comprehensive study and report on Vermont Congregationalism as it existed when A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob were growing up in the Green Mountain State. We just acquired another important Vermont history resource: Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions, and P. Jeffrey Potash, Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont (Barre: VT: Vermont Historical Society, 2004). And two more that are relevant to the Vermont picture. Of particular interest in the Freedom and Unity title are the materials on the origins, the state constitution, the Revolution, the admission to the union, and the strong foundation in religious orthodoxy redirected to bolster religious revival and personal reform with the framework of Congregationalism (pp. 73-143); the religious trends of Federalist and Calvinist Congregationalism; the non-Calvinist sects; the evangelical awakenings; the latter Congregationalist doctrine of election; the legislation enabling Towns and Parishes to tax residents to enable the erection of Houses for public Worship, and support of Ministers of the Gospel; the Standing Order abolition that made Vermont the first New England government to cut the tie of church and state; “popular evangelism,” revivals; temperance, and prohibition (pp. 145-211).

The principal historical points that the scholar T. D. Seymour Bassett covered were:

• The study of Congregationalism in Vermont [pp. 193-215].
• Camp meetings and revivals [p. 241].
• The Bible and church emphasis [pp. 153, 266].
• Emphasis on youth [p. 192].
• At the level of religious education, churches indoctrinated adults in catechism,
• Confirmation, and Sunday or study groups. Sunday schools thrived [p. 210].
• Domestic missions [p. 209].
• The Young Men’s Christian Association [pp. 163, 232-39].
• The pluralism which encompassed the work of the Salvation Army [pp. 215, 231-32].
• The immense impact of the work of evangelists Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey [p. 193]. , , ,
• The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor [pp. 215, 240-42].
• Bassett also observes: “Vermont’s early nineteenth century revivalists shaped religion until the 1840’s. Although the technique became habitual in the camp meetings and urban revivals down through Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. . . .

In the unexpected trauma of the Civil War experience, comrades and chaplains tried to meet human needs regardless of religious persuasion. . . .

Revivalists in Vermont continued to recruit many converts to carry the gospel across the world, and in the state they worked against liquor and slavery, but focused on new, political means” [p. 141].

“[During the Moody and Sankey Vermont campaign in October 1877,] . . . inquirers and converts asked what to do after the excitement of Moody’s meetings. He told them: ‘Join a church; take communion; attend church meetings; repeat Bible verses; help others resist temptation; join the YMCA. . . .’ [H]ome visitors supplied Bibles, urged householders to go to church and Sunday school, and found some attending the YMCA who did not go to church” [p. 195].

Christian Recovery before A.A.

Congregationalism and Vermont

• The first church established in Vermont was a Congregational church. The First Congregational Church of Bennington, Vermont—also known as “the Old First Church”—was “gathered” on December 3, 1762. It was also the first Protestant congregation in the New Hampshire Grants. The current meeting house was built in 1805. [Bicentennial Discourse and Sermon, on August 13, 2006]. The church is located on Monument Avenue in Bennington, Vermont. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

• As illustrated with frequency in our new video series and accompanying guidebook here, the families (grandparents and parents) of both Bill W. and Dr. Bob were much involved with Congregational Churches. So were Bill and Bob themselves. Dr. Bob and his family attended the North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. As Bob stated in A.A.’s Big Book, the Smiths frequently attended five times a week. And the Griffith and Wilson families were intimately involved in the Congregational church located next door to the houses of each family. All three buildings as restored are still present in East Dorset, Vermont—the Griffith Library on one side; the East Dorset Congregational Church in the middle; and the Wilson House on the other side.

• St. Johnsbury Academy, where Dr. Bob matriculated, was dominated by Congregationalists. The Fairbanks family, consisting of Thaddeus Fairbanks, Deacon Erastus Fairbanks, and Joseph Fairbanks were very wealthy, businessmen, state-wide Congregational leaders, much involved in North Congregational Church, much connected with the YMCA, and officiated at the Academy. The Congregational influence in the little St. Johnsbury village spilled over into the academy requirement that a Congregational Church be attended once a week. Daily chapel was required of St. Johnsbury Academy “scholars” (i.e., students)—with sermons, hymns, reading of Scripture, and prayers.

• Bill Wilson’s families (the Wilsons and the Griffiths) had homes immediately adjacent to East Dorset Congregational Church in East Dorset where Bill was born and raised. Bill’s parents Gilman Barrows Wilson and Emily Ella Griffith were married in that church and lived for a time in its parsonage. Both families regularly attended that church. The Wilsons owned Pew 15 in the church. Bill attended the Sunday school. And there are specific biographical records of Bill’s mention of and attendance at revivals, sermons, temperance, and conversion meetings.

• A reference in Stepping Stones materials: “Books_at_Stepping_Stones.pdf” makes it quite apparent that Bill Wilson was awarded a New Testament (with a copyright date of 1901—was it an American Standard Version of 1901?)]: That New Testament was inscribed: “Will Wilson, for perfect attendance at Sunday School, Fourth Quarter 1906 from his pastor D. Miner Rogers East Dorset Vt. Jan 1, 1907 II Tim.3/14.15.”

• As documented elsewhere: When he was enrolled in the Congregationalist dominated Burr and Burton Seminary, Bill Wilson took a four year Bible study course there; attended daily chapel with sermons, hymns, prayers, and reading of Scripture. The Castle in the Pasture book contains excellent photos of the officials, the Seminary Building with bell tower, the North Chapel in the 1890’s, the original First Congregational Church in Manchester Village, many YMCA and athletic activities, and two pages on Bill Wilson and his lady love, Bertha Bamford. And students frequently marched down to the First Congregational Church from the Seminary for services (page 67).

• The prominent St. Johnsbury leader Henry Fairbanks presented a paper before the annual Congregational state convention in 1895, titled “The Influence of Congregationalism upon Vermont.” And Fairbanks wrote:

o The Congregational way was primitive Christianity revived after centuries of departure from the congregational principles of St. Stephen and the Jerusalem elders.

The Young Men’s Christian Association.

• George Williams, a draper, founded the Young Men’s Christian Association in London on June 6, 1844. The first YMCA in the United States was founded in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 29, 1851.

• Beginning in 1871, YMCA lay brethren—with the YMCA’s non-denominational approach—conducted canvasses to bring the Gospel to non-Christians and “awakening” to Christians in the New England area.

• Young Men’s Christian Association laymen were largely responsible for organizing what became “The Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury. It was a widely-reported event which completely transformed the community of St. Johnsbury, resulted in construction of many churches, and produced conversion of a large portion of the population to God through His Son Jesus Christ.

The Great Evangelists

History records many well-known evangelists who held campaigns in Vermont—as well as in America and abroad—around the time Bill W. and Dr. Bob were growing up there. (It also records Christian evangelists who put on large public meetings after Bill had returned to New York following his service in the Army in World War I, and/or who had put on meetings in Akron after Dr. Bob had moved there to work as a medical doctor.) Moreover, many espoused the integrity of the Bible and the necessity for salvation; and they did this through “personal work;” revivals; books; and huge, widely reported meetings for half a century. Their efforts brought people to God through His Son Jesus Christ; and they often focused on healing even drunkards. For example, the following reported the healing of drunkards and addicts.

• Evangelist Allen Folger.
• Billy Sunday.
• Dwight Moody and A.J. Gordon.
• James Hickson and Evangelist Ethel Willitts. A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob owned a book on healing by each of these two authors.
• F. B. Meyer.

These protracted, effective efforts were the subject of extensive, scholarly, studious lectures at delivered at Yale in 1945, in which Bill Wilson himself was a participant.

Today, a disparate and thankfully-small crowd of writers and academics have opposed the idea of recovery from and cure of alcoholism and addiction in the faith-centered arena—whether that arena rests on:

• The power, promises, or instructions of God;
• The “Great Physician;”
• The Bible;
• “Divine healing” or “divine aid” (terms Bill Wilson and/or the Big Book used);
• Alcoholics Anonymous;
• “Conservative” Christians still talking about both Jesus Christ and the Bible, and about the cure and overcoming of booze, in the same breath; and
• Disputing that 12 Step programs could possibly have or admit, or be in the same rooms with Christians who “were” sinners and yet continued in walking after the flesh.

There is no need here to name these disruptive people and viewpoints. You can find them easily tooting their horns on the internet and in frequent articles. But it’s beneficial to Christians, believers, and active AAs to recognize the red flags of warning about the methods and verbiage of their messages of disruption and unbelief in the power of God to heal. And their banners seem often to be somehow sanctified by their claims as advocates or practitioners of: (1) “liberal” Protestantism; (2) “Modernists;” (3) a limited Roman Catholic distaste, even today, among several of those who dodge the fire by calling themselves of the Catholic “tradition” and therefore opposed to A First Century Christian Fellowship, of “Christians;” (4) “defenders” against “heretical” or hell-bound AAs; or (5) just plain humanists, agnostic, or atheists traveling on the broad highway while trying to reframe recovery today as secular, “scientific,” and “spiritual, but not religious.”

But the early A.A. Christians—and those today who (in the words of Billy Sunday, follow Paul’s promise in Romans 10:9-10, that those shall be saved confessing with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead)—saw a different picture of First Century Christianity at work in the century from 1850 to 1950. One example of what these believers saw was that of the Rev. Joseph H. Odell, D.D., formerly pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Scranton, who reversed his position and said this of Billy Sunday’s huge successes:

“Produced results!” Everyone understood the phrase. . . . As the result of the “Billy” Sunday campaigns—anywhere and everywhere—drunkards became sober, thieves became honest, multitudes of people engaged themselves in the study of the Bible, thousands confessed their faith in Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world. . . .

Those who voiced additional compelling lectures about religious success in overcoming alcoholism were the voices of Rev. Francis W. McPeek, pp. 277-85; Rev. Roland H. Bainton, pp. 287-98; Edward G. Baird, p. 219; Dwight Anderson, pp. 362-72; Rev. Francis W. McPeek, “The Role of Religious Bodies in the Treatment of Inebriety in the United States,” pp. 404-14; Rev. Otis R. Rice, “Pastoral Counseling of Inebriates,” pp. 437-69; W.W. [Bill Wilson], “The Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous,” pp. 461-73. Thus Rev. McPeek stated in his lecture on religious bodies:

This has been a brief and highly selective survey of a century’s efforts among religious people to bring the healing power of God into the lives of those who suffer from inebriety. Certain things may be held as conclusive. Towering above them all is this indisputable fact: It is faith in the living God which has accounted for more recoveries from the disease than all other therapeutic agencies put together. . . . Highbrows and bums, rich men and poor, judges and carpenters, prisoners and clergymen—they have all . . .

Henry Moorhouse and Ira Sankey conducted a week-long campaign in St. Johnsbury at the end of October 1877, just before Dr. Bob was born on August 8, 1879. Many of the other well-known evangelists were not only linked together in friendship, but also in a chain of evangelism and revival involving the rescue missions, the Young Men’s Christian Association, and other evangelists including Moody, Sankey, Clark, Williams, Booth, Folger, Sunday, Willitts, Meyer, Drummond, and others..

Roger Bruns pointed out in his book, Preacher:

From the earliest days of American Protestantism, revivalists held fast to the belief that the universe was neatly divided between God and Satan, the elect and the damned, the pure and the despoiled.

From Jonathan Edwards to Charles Finney to Lyman Beecher to Dwight Moody, Bible-clutching evangelists preached the complete authority of the Scriptures, the necessity of personal conversion, and a life free of vice.

Personal and evangelical Protestantism taught a close relationship between men and women and their God, challenging the sinner to renounce the ways of the devil and to repent.

Personal salvation and moral responsibility—these were the demands on the faithful.

Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter wrote in The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever:

The Layman’s Prayer revival which began in 1857 deeply influenced America. . . . Across the ocean, the 1859 awakening in Britain raised a host of evangelists, missionaries, and social reformers. . . .

Existing mission, Bible, Sunday school, and tract societies in both Britain and America flourished, with new workers revived or converted during the awakening.

New societies were formed to promote home missions, establishing Sunday schools and churches throughout both nations. The YMCA, the Salvation Army, the China Inland Mission, the Christian Brethren, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance were just a few of the many ministries and denominations born early in this awakening.

William T. Ellis’s book on Billy Sunday stated:

Professor William James, the philosopher, contended that there was “scientific value to the stories of Christian conversions; that these properly belonged among the data of religion, to be weighed by the man of science.”

Valued and needing to be weighed, said Professor William James. This while a few recovery revisionists jest about the “cure” of alcoholism, faith-centered treatment, and the role of God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible in recovery. And those few today might do well to take note of the respect shown of Professor James of Harvard long before there was an A.A. and well after the many Christian organizations and evangelists had helped thousands and thousands of drunks recover. Even today, a few history buffs appear to laugh away the moribund significance of what they derisively call those “golden days,” (as they like to characterize them) , and then simply shove all the forgoing records aside as the investigative efforts of amateurs, hobbyists, naive zealots bent on “Christianizing” an A.A. that is hardly headed toward Christian dogma, creeds, or rituals today.

Then there is the dramatic account of the Healing Movement:

[A. J.] Gordon began including healing in his ministry after he observed an opium addict delivered and a missionary’s cancerous jaw healed instantaneously through the prayers of concerned believers during Dwight L. Moody’s revival meetings in Boston in 1877.

These meetings revitalized the life of Clarendon Church, which Gordon pastored, and brought reformed drunkards and all kinds of commoners into the ranks of this affluent church.

Once again, a few secularly-oriented writers today fail to mention or evaluate the recovery efforts and successes of specific people and entities such as Jerry McAuley, the Water Street Mission, S. H. Hadley, Calvary Mission in New York (operated by Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Church), and testimonies by healers such as A. J. Gordon, Ethel Willitts, and James Moore Hickson—who gained wide notice for healing drunkards, just as did organizations like the Salvation Army and the Young Men’s Christian Association. These are discussed at some length in our title, Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous ; by the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies; and by the noted religious scholar and writer Dr. Howard Clinebell. See also the many footnotes of the Guidebook that accompanies these videos in the “Bill W., Dr. Bob, and the Cure of Alcoholism: The Rest of the Story” class by Dick B. and Ken B.

Though the numbers of such evangelists are many, the following deserve special attention with reference to the First Century Christian origins of the Christian Recovery Movement and the influence on A.A.’s founders:

• Charles Grandison Finney.
• F. B. Meyer.
• Dwight L. Moody.
• Ira Sankey.
• Henry Drummond.
• Henry Moorhouse.
• K. A. Burnell and Henry M. Moore.
• Allen Folger.
• Billy Sunday.

As we are documenting in our videos, some of the evangelists mentioned above actually held campaigns in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where Dr. Bob was born and raised.

The “Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont

This event caught the attention of pastors, churches, denominations, organizations, newspapers, and writers. The transformation of communities—particularly St. Johnsbury—involved the conversion of one-third of the population, the erection of new churches, and a change in the attitude of citizens.

The accounts are so lengthy and numerous that we leave the important description of them to the pages of Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont.

The Gospel Rescue Missions

Jerry McAuley. Jerry McAuley founded the first rescue mission in the United States in 1872. He was known in his days as the “Apostle to the Outcast.”

McAuley’s rescue mission was originally known as “Helping Hand for Men,” and later became known as known as “The (Old McAuley) Water Street Mission.”

A great Bible teacher, Dr. Arthur T. Pierson once said: “If you would like to feel as if you were reading a new chapter of the Acts of the Apostles it would be well for you to visit the old Jerry McAuley Water Street Mission.” Jerry carried on his work for ten years at Number 316 Water Street. He finally concluded that this was a worked-out mine, and located a mission at No. 104 West Thirty-Second Street known as the Cremorne Mission. Jerry secured the lease and started the Cremorne Mission at that spot on January 8, 1882.

McAuley—and his successor superintendent at the mission, Samuel Hopkins Hadley (also known as “S. H. Hadley”)—focused (in colloquial language) on “soup, soap, and salvation.” J. Wilbur Chapman, Hadley’s biographer, wrote: “If you will multiply many times this story of the genuine conversion of a poor lost man, you will have the life story of S.H. Hadley, the man who during his Christian life possibly led more drunkards to Christ than any other man of his generation,” p. 24. Chapman said of S.H. Hadley’s brother Colonel H.H. Hadley that the Colonel “has the distinction of having founded more rescue missions than any other man in the world,” p. 43. Chapman concluded the S.H. Hadley biography by saying: “In the years of service in Water Street not less than seventy-five thousand persons have announced their intentions to live better lives. Not all of these have stood firm in the new faith, of course, but it is safe to say that the percentage has been as large as, if not larger than, would be the case following an ordinary revival.,” p. 288.

The Hadley biography also shows the close ties of S. H. Hadley to the Evangelists F. B. Meyer and Dwight Moody; the ties of one of his sailor drunks to the founding of six Christian Endeavor groups, and Hadley’s favorite as 1 Corinthians 13.

At the time of the “great compromise” in A.A. just before its Big Book was published in April 1939, Bill W.’s use of unmodified word God in the original draft of Steps Two, Three, and Eleven was changed. The unappointed “committee of four” (i.e., Bill W., Bill’s business partner and “sponsee” Henry P., Fitz M., and secretary Ruth Hock):

• In Step Two, removed the original word God and replaced it with the phrase “a Power greater than ourselves.”
• In Step Three, added the modifying phrase “as we understood Him” following the originally-unmodified word God.
• In Step Three, added the modifying phrase “as we understood Him” following the originally-unmodified word God.

Bill W. said the compromise was to open a “broad highway” and was “the great contribution” of the atheists and agnostics. But Bill also said that his “committee of four” compromisers had declined to include what A.A. had learned from the churches and the missions.

But the following quote is from the S. H. Hadley biography, on page 172-73. It provides, a good idea of what Bill—himself a mission convert–learned at the very Calvary Mission which was actually an outgrowth of New York’s famous Water Street Mission, founded in the last century by Jerry McAuley. First, however, note that A.A. author and historian Mel B. wrote the following about the relationship of the McAuley mission work and Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Mission. Mel stated:

McAuley was succeeded at the Water Street Mission by S. H. Hadley. His example of recovery from alcoholism was cited in William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience (a seminal book that profoundly influenced Bill Wilson).

Hadley’s son Harry, who also had a religious conversion experience, was seeking an opportunity to start a rescue mission when he met Sam Shoemaker. The result of their collaboration was Calvary Mission, which helped thousands of men, including Ebby Thacher.

Here are the Hadley biography remarks about S. H Hadley, his mission, and the Calvary Mission approach and activities that Bill was talking about:

The secret of Mr. Hadley’s wonderful success . . . can be summed up in the fact that his religion was not a creed, not a catechism, not a summary of Christian doctrines, not an observance of church duties, but a firm realization of Christ as a person, with whom he had conscious communion, and from he had received blessings as clearly as from the hand of a friend. Yet there was not the slightest tinge of fanaticism in his religious life . . .

But instead of being elated by his success, of affected by popularity he attained, he became increasingly humble, and his utter dependence upon God was daily more manifest.

And this spirit he sought with all earnestness to impress upon the Mission converts. Their help, their only help, he insisted, was God. Anything else would fail them. They must pray. They must read their Bibles. They must maintain constant communion with Jesus. They must be deeply religious. They must rest with absolute faith on the promises of God. If they trusted in God, their old appetites, lusts, desires, temptations, no matter how powerful in the old life, would no longer have dominion over them. [These biblical ideas can be found used almost verbatim in A.A. literature by Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill D.]

In this way he [Hadley] made religion a real thing. He had no place for theories in his Mission. God, heaven, hell, sin, Christ, salvation, the power of prayer, the indwelling of the Holy spirit, grace for even the most abandoned and degraded, were tremendous verities with him, and he made them the essentials of his ministry.

S. H. Hadley’s son, Henry Harrison Hadley II (also known as “Harry Hadley”)–named after S. H. Hadley’s brother, Colonel Henry Harrison Hadley–collaborated with Rev. Sam Shoemaker in opening the Calvary Mission on 23rd Street in Manhattan in 1926 and became its first superintendent. That whole Hadley—Mission—Calvary Mission—Wilson link is covered extensively in Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W., 80-107. You can learn the facts from the lips and writings of Sam Shoemaker, L. Parks Shipley, Sr., Mrs. Samuel Shoemaker, Shoemaker’s assistant ministers John Potter Cuyler and W. Irving Harris, Calvary Mission brother Billy Duval, Mel B., William James, Bill Wilson, Lois Wilson, Bill Pittman, and Fitz M.

Taylor (“Tex”) Francisco—who took over as superintendent of Calvary Mission in 1933—was the superintendent of the Calvary Mission when Bill W.’s “sponsor,” Ebby Thacher, made his personal surrender—accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior—there November 1, 1934.

Tex was still the superintendent when Bill W. accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior there about December 7, 1934, just before Bill entered Towns Hospital for his fourth and final visit on December 11, 1934.

Records in such descriptive books as J. Wilbur Chapman, S.H. Hadley of Water Street, tell of the tens of thousands of down-and-outers that went through Water Street Mission and were helped, if not healed.

Records of Calvary Mission, where both Ebby Thacher and Bill Wilson accepted Christ, also report on the thousands helped in that endeavor at Calvary Mission which was owned by Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker’s Calvary Episcopal Church in New York.

The Salvation Army

“General” William Booth founded an organization in July 1865 in England— an early name for which was “The Christian Mission”—that became known as “The Salvation Army” in 1878. Booth sent an official group to the United States in 1880 to pioneer work for the organization.

The Salvation Army’s work with drunkards, derelicts, and criminals in the slums became popularized in Harold Begbie’s Twice-Born Men—a book owned, circulated, and widely-read by Oxford Group people and by the Akron AAs.

The effectiveness and techniques of the Salvation Army are well discussed by Dr. Howard Clinebell of the Claremont School of Theology. Also in one of the lectures given at the Yale Alcohol Studies in 1945—an event in which Bill Wilson was one of the participating lecturers.

The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor

The Rev. Dr. Francis E. Clark founded this society at the Williston Congregational Church in Portland, Maine, on February 2, 1881. During its National Convention convened July 9 and 10, 1885, at Ocean Park, Maine, the society was incorporated under the laws of Maine as “the United Society of Christian Endeavor.”

At that convention, Mr. Van Patten of Burlington, Vermont, was chosen President. This Christian society, aimed at young people in the church, spread throughout the world and reached a peak membership of around 4.5 million members.

A Christian Endeavor Society started in North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, in 1887 (when Dr. Bob was about eight years old), and Dr. Bob said he was actively involved in it “from childhood through high school.”

Christian Endeavor’s ideas and regimen produced a thoroughly observed, reported, organized, and followed program of:

• Confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior;
• Conversion meetings;
• Bible study meetings;
• Prayer meetings;
• Quiet Hour;
• Topical discussions; and
• Reading of Christian literature

The Christian Endeavor program closely paralleled the original Akron A.A. program founded by Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1935.

“A First Century Christian Fellowship” (also known later as the “Oxford Group”)

Let us also look at “A First Century Christian Fellowship” and aspects of its influence on early A.A. Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman, a Lutheran minister, and a couple of associates founded the organization in the autumn of 1922. In September 1928, the press in South Africa affixed the label “the Oxford Group” to a group of Oxford University students involved with “A First Century Christian Fellowship” who were traveling by train in South Africa, and the name stuck.

In the Oxford Group’s earliest days, Group leader Sherwood Sunderland Day wrote a little pamphlet succinctly summarizing the principles of the Oxford Group. Day wrote at the beginning of his pamphlet that the principles of the Oxford Group were the principles of the Bible.

And if you read my [Dick B.’s] comprehensive book, The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous, you will see two major points:

1. The Oxford Group’s 28 principles that impacted on A.A., and the specific language used in hundreds of Oxford Group writings [some 500 that Dick B. acquired, studied, and reported], each rested on the Oxford Group biblical principles that Bill W. later incorporated into the Big Book.

2. Oxford Group writer after Oxford Group writer—many of whose books were read by early AAs—quoted the Bible in support of those 28 principles that later impacted on Bill’s language and approach to the Big Book.

It was Bill Wilson himself who said: “I am always glad to say privately that some of the Oxford Group presentation and emphasis upon the Christian message saved my life.”

Bill W.’s wife, Lois, was even clearer on what the Oxford Group and its First Century Christianity had done for A.A. and for her Bill. Lois wrote:

Alcoholics Anonymous (yet to be formed at that time) owes a great debt to the Oxford Group.

The next few months were a happy time for Bill. He had the companionship of his alcoholic friends, the spiritual inspiration of the Oxford Group and the satisfaction of being useful to those he worked with.

The Oxford Group precepts [as Lois characterized them] were in substance:

• Surrender your life to God;
• Take a moral inventory;
• Confess your sins to God and another human being;
• Make restitution;
• Give of yourself to others with no demand for return;
• Pray to God for help to carry out these principles.
• There were also four “Absolutes”: absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love, moral standards by which every thought and action should be tested.

And Lois W. wrote in her memoir:

God, through the Oxford Group, had accomplished in a twinkling what I had failed to do in seventeen years.

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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