A.A.’s Salvation Army Factor
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One of the Key Christian Roots of Early Alcoholics Anonymous
We are here revisiting the subject of A.A. and the Salvation Army. We do this in 2010 because so much has been made clear by our research in the last two years. And most of the subjects just never made it on the radar of A.A. discussions or history. Much of what we have found is embodied in our recent title Dick B. and Ken B. Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont.
The facts are becoming ever more clear. They arise when one researches and reports on the Christian and Bible training A.A.’s two founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob received as youngsters in Vermont. Bob first from his family, North Congregational Church, Sunday school, Christian Endeavor Society, YMCA, daily chapel, and St. Johnsbury Academy in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Bill second from his family, East Dorset Congregational Church, Sunday School, Manchester Congregational Church, Burr and Burton Academy, daily chapel a four-year Bible study course there, and his presidency of the YMCA. Some of this material is covered in our recent title Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.
And there is much more to the picture. Why did Bill Wilson talk so much about conversion to Jesus Christ? Why did the Original Akron “Christian Fellowship” founded by Bill and Bob insist on belief in God and a decision for Christ? Why did Dr. Bob state that the basic ideas for the Twelve Steps came from the study and effort in the Bible? Why did early AAs emphasize the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13? Some of these answers are covered in Dick B., The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials. Why did Dr. Bob say he had received excellent training in the Bible as a youngster? Why did Dr. Bob mention his church, Sunday school, prayer meetings, Bible study, and activity in Christian Endeavor? Why did Bill W. believe Dr. Silkworth when Silkworth told him that Jesus Christ could cure him? Why did Bill conclude that Ebby had been born again at Calvary Rescue Mission? Why did Bill go to the Mission and make his decision for Christ, declaring that he himself had been born again? Why did Bill finally decide to call on Jesus Christ for help? Why, when Bill was cured in his white light experience at Towns Hospital, did Bill immediately go out witnessing with a Bible under his, tell people they needed to give their lives to God, and state that the Lord had cured him of his terrible disease?
And why all the biblical words and phrases in the Big Book text?s
Part of the answers come from the seven major Christian organizations and leaders that influenced early A.A.’s ideas: Evangelists and revivalists, Rescue Missions, the YMCA, the Salvation Army, Young People’s Christian Endeavor Society, and later the Oxford Group, and
finally the teachings of Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., an Oxford Group leader and the man Bill Wilson called a “cofounder of A.A.”
And almost all were contributing specific factors to the thinking, planning, and Original program that came from the experiences of the two co-founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob.
This is an edited version of the Salvation Army Factor Article we wrote sometime ago.
Various respected writers and speakers like the clergymen who spoke at the Yale Summer School Lectures in 1945, where Bill Wilson also delivered his talk, have alluded to the relevance to A.A. History of the religiously oriented program of the Salvation Army. Mel B. mentioned the influence in his study of the spiritual roots of the 12 Step miracle. And Mark Guldseth wrote a little known book about Oxford Group origins and called attention to the “Streams” that contributed to the ideas. These streams included General William Booth, Dwight Moody, Henry Drummond, Henry B. Wright, and others mentioned in my Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous title. [Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works]. Moreover, British writer Harold Begbie wrote his classic book Twice-Born Men vividly describing the work and successes of Army people in the slums of London. And recently a Twelve Step website favored us with lengthy re-writes of articles on Findley and General Booth that helped fill in the still porous picture.
What was the Salvation Army program? Which descriptions are better and reliable? Did the Salvation Army develop some ideas that were directly parallel to those used in early Akron A.A.’s Christian Fellowship? If so, was this simply the tide of the times; or was there a more direct link? In any case, to the extent that the Salvation Army program of yesteryear resembled and was as successful as the Akron A.A. program, does this warrant a further examination of both to see how these historical landmark programs may be of aid and comfort to believers in recovery and Twelve Step programs today?
Don’t expect to find all the answers in this article. But I hope it will stimulate further research and interest in exactly what can be accomplished by adding an historical Christian recovery element to regular programs, to regular treatment programs, and to Christ-centered, Christian Track, and Christian counseling and therapy. The reader can decide for himself about the utility of taking up the challenge.
Keeping the Early A.A. Pioneer Program in Focus
I’ve written extensively on the major roots of the early program. And they are seven in number: (1) The Bible. (2) Quiet Time. (3) The contents of Anne Smith’s Journal. (4) The teachings of Rev. Sam Shoemaker. (5) The life-changing program of the Oxford Group. (6) The Christian literature early AAs read. (7) The principles and practices of the United Christian Endeavor Society of Dr. Bob’s youth.
Sources are listed in the bibliography below. And it should not be assumed that because a particular root contributed to the program the program consisted exclusively of that root and did not include other sources such as Carl Jung, William James, William D. Silkworth, Richard Peabody, and New Thought writers like Fox and Trine. Therefore this focus will highlight how the various major roots employed the Bible, fellowship with and reliance upon the Creator, and acceptance of Jesus Christ, and fed those elements into A.A.
We’ll just focus on three major sources of the Akron program—all deriving their ideas from the Bible.
First, the Oxford Group. As recent information is making more and more clear, the early Akron program differed more from the Oxford Group program and ideas than it resembled them. Oxford Group doings played heavily on the earliest Akron events—the healing of Russell Firestone with the help of Jim Newton, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and the Denver train trip; the famous Akron events of 1933 when the Oxford Group came to Akron in force and swept into its fold the enthusiasm of Henrietta Seiberling, Anne Smith, and T. Henry and Clarace Williams; the little “clandestine lodge” of the Oxford Group at T. Henry’s home where prayers were given by and for Dr. Bob for his recovery; and the remarkable appearance of Bill Wilson in Akron with the declaration that he was a “rum hound from New York” and a member of the Oxford Group. Without those Oxford Group beginnings, there would have been no A.A. at all—either in Akron or in the heavily Oxford Group influenced beginnings in Bill Wilson’s past. Moreover, certain Oxford Group ideas like the Four Absolutes, confession, inventory, guidance, and restitution very definitely had a common origin in Christian Endeavor influences and exerted a specific and powerful influence on Akron practices. Later, when Bill departed from the simple Akron program and fashioned his Big Book and Twelve Steps, he largely incorporated the Oxford Group life-changing program into his new venture.
Second, the United Christian Endeavor Society. Scarcely mentioned until I began unearthing the facts, the ultimate form of the alcoholic squad in Akron, its Christian Fellowship, its Oxford Group backdrop, and its meetings at T. Henry’s home quickly took on the form of United Christian Endeavor. This meant: (1) Confession of Christ—not an Oxford Group requirement. (2) Conversion meetings—part of the Akron surrenders and not of the Oxford Group. (3) Bible study meetings—regular fare in Christian Endeavor and in Akron—not a major feature of Oxford Group activity. (4) Old fashioned prayer meetings—unique to Christian Endeavor and Akron practices. (5) Religious reading—Christian Endeavor and Akron, with Oxford Group focus largely on Oxford Group/Shoemaker/quiet time books rather than on other writings. (6) Quiet Time—common to Christian Endeavor, the Oxford Group, and Akron—largely because of the influence of Dwight L. Moody, F..B. Meyer, Henry Drummond, John Mott, and Henry B. Wright on all three. (7) Favored church attendance—a must in Christian Endeavor, a recommendation in Akron, a non-issue in the Oxford Group. (8) Fellowship—a common Biblical root of all three. (9) Witness—a common Biblical root of all three. (10) Love and service—prominent features in Christian Endeavor and in Dr. Bob’s view and descriptions.
Third, the unique elements of Akron’s Christian Fellowship and program of recovery. The one authentic, objective, and complete discussion of the Akron program can be found in the report of Frank Amos to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The report named five required elements and two recommended elements in Akron’s program. It very much resembled a program long a part of the Salvation Army approach, and it omitted mention of several vital Akron elements that were not a part of the Oxford Group but were Biblical in character: (1) Hospitalization a must. (2) “Half-way” residential houses such as those found in the home of Dr. Bob and Anne Smith and others. (3) Teachings from Anne Smith’s Journal. (4) Counseling with Dr. Bob, Anne, Henrietta Seiberling, and T. Henry Williams. (5) Prayer sessions “upstairs” in which the newcomer accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour, asked God in that name to take alcohol out of his life, and asked to be guided and strengthened to live by the cardinal principles of Jesus Christ—including the Four Absolutes. (6) Emphasis on the importance of the Book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13.
The Akron program elements reported by Frank Amos to Rockefeller were, in brief summary form, as follows:
(1) Complete abstinence. (2) Reliance on the Creator. (3) Elimination of sinful conduct. (4) Quiet Time with Bible study, prayer, and religious reading. (5) Helping other alcoholics. (6) Recommended religious and social comradeship. (7) Recommended religious service attendance weekly.
Now for Various Descriptions of the Army Program
At the Yale Summer School Lectures in 1945
“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 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. Milams (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 results” (pp. 414-415).
Harold Begbie’s Twice Born Men in 1909—a book widely read in the Akron fellowship
Treat yourself to a reading of Begbie’s book. In story after story, he tells of the message- carrying Salvationists to down-and-outers in the slums of London. The bum in the slum is impressed with the success of the message carrier. There is an invitation to accept Christ and be converted. There is a complete change. There is life-long victory. And the derelict recovered is invited to join “God’s Army” and help others get delivered in the same fashion. And when there is relapse, it is rightly attributed to the ongoing struggle man must make with his newfound power against temptation to sin. There are not enough pages here to do Begbie’s writing justice. But the following gives a taste:
“The phrase “a new birth” is not a rhetorical hyperbole, but a fact of the physical kingdom. Men, who have been irretrievably bad, and under conversion have become ardent savers of the lost, tell us, with all the pathetic emphasis of their inexpressible and impenetrable discovery, that in the change which overcame them they were conscious of being “born again.” To them, and we can go to no other authorities, this tremendous revolution in personality signifies a new birth. It transforms Goneril into Cordelia, Caliban into Ariel, Saul of Tarsus into Paul the apostle.
There is no medicine, no Art of Parliament, no moral treatise, and no invention of philanthropy which can transform a man radically bad into a man radically good. If the State, burdened and shackeled by its horde of outcasts and sinners, would march freely and efficiently to its goal, it must be at the hands of religion that relief is sought. Only religion can perform the miracle which will convert the burden into assistance. There is nothing else; there can be nothing else. Science despairs of these people and pronounces them “hopeless” and “incurable.” Politicians find themselves at the end of their resources. Philanthropy begins to wonder whether its charity could not be turned into a more fertile channel. The law speaks of “criminal classes.” It is only religion that is not in despair about this mass of profitless evil dragging at the heels of progress—the religion which still believes in miracle.
It is the rejoicing, singing, irrepressible happiness of the Salvationist, which often makes him such a powerful saver of other men. . . an American writer, quoted by Professor James, to exclaim: ‘I am bold to say that the work of God in the conversion of one soul, considered together with the source, foundation, and purchase of it, and also the benefit and eternal issue of it, is a more glorious work of God than the creation of the whole material universe’.” (pp. 18-20).
The two-volume biography of General William Booth—founder of the Salvation Army
I’ve spent night after night reading this account. There is no time here to duplicate it though it can be found on the web and downloaded just as I did it. Suffice it to say that there was lots of struggle, lots of pain, lots of opposition, lots of unique effort that went into the Army’s beginnings. It did not always don Santa suits and ring bells at Christmas. Nor did it always consist of a uniformed brass band tooting on the streets. Or soup kitchens. Church officials opposed it. One courted it. And I suppose there are plenty who would hurl the usual weapons of detractors—calling those with whom they disagree a cult, an heretical sect, a schismatic group, a banned fellowship. It appears the Army went through these too. See Harold Begbie. The Gospel Truth: Life of William Booth Founder and First General of the Salvation Army (two volumes)
But if the original accomplishments bear the test of careful scrutiny and evaluation, it is very hard to reject the ideas the Army put into practice. It is hard to ignore their resemblance to the original A.A. program. There was no basic text but the Bible. There were no “steps” to recovery. There was an army of fervent, rescued, soldiers out to save souls and to do it with love and service. Abstinence, as in Akron, was required. Reliance on God, as in Akron, was required. Acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior was required. Sin was renounced as in Akron. A Biblical foundation was at the root as in Akron. And personal work by one successful saved soul with another “medically incurable” and “seemingly hopeless” drunk was the catalyst out of which new births occurred.
Sounds to me like the A.A. of old—the A.A.I thought I was joining—and the general approach I took to changing my own life and passing on the “how to” be reborn message within our popular fellowship. It’s not the only A.A. by a long shot. It’s A.A. as I have practiced it with success.
Alcohol, Science and Society, Twenty-nine Lectures, Yale Summer
School of Alcohol Studies, 1945
B., Dick. Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939.
_____. Cured: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts
_____. Dr. Bob and His Library.
_____. Good Morning: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and
_____. Henrietta Seiberling: Ohio’s Lady with a Cause
_____. Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Early A.A.
_____. The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous.
_____. The Good Book and The Big Book.
_____. The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute
_____. The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous.
_____. New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.
_____. When Early AAs Were Cured and Why
B., Mel New Wine
Begbie, Harold. The Gospel Truth: Life of William Booth Founder and
First General of the Salvation Army (in two volumes), 1920.
____. Twice Born Men.
Clark., Francis E., Christian Endeavor In All Lands
Clinebell, Howard. Understanding and Counseling Persons with
Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictions..
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers.
Guldseth, Mark O. Streams.
K., Richard. New Freedom: Reclaiming Alcoholics Anonymous
The Co-Founders Biographical Sketches and Last Major Talks.
Wells, Amos R. Expert Endeavor: A Textbook of Christian Endeavor.
White, William L. Slaying the Dragon.
Wright, Henry B. The Will of God and a Man’s Life Work
Note: The full bibliographical citations can be found in Dick B., Making Known The Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous: A Sixteen Year Research, Writing, Publishing, and Fact Dissemination Project. 3rd ed., Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006.
All Dick B. books can be purchased on Amazon.com or Dick B.’s site: www.dickb.com.
Dick B., email@example.com; http://www.dickb.com/index.shtml; http://www.dickb-blog.com