In our new class--"Introductory Foundations for Christian Recovery" www.dickb.com/IFCR-Class.shtml, one of our major features about Alcoholics Anonymous and A.A. history, is the discussion of the seven Christian organizations and people who preceded A.A. and contributed so substantially to the original A.A. Christian Fellowship program. Five of these were successful in healing alcoholics long before A.A. and long before its oft-mentioned later connections--the Oxford Group and Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.
Five of these seven had a powerful and continuing impact on the lives of A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob, on the conversion healings that were part of both men's lives, and on the early program founded in Akron in 1935 and developed by the Akron A.A. pioneers in the next three years.
We have discussed these roots in two of our recent books--The Conversion of Bill W. www.dickb.com/conversion.shtml, and Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous www.dickb.com/drbobofaa.shtml. We are also discussing them in a series of articles on these cornerstones of A.A. history, A.A.'s Chrisitian origins, and A.A.'s early, simple pioneer fellowship program.
The five major Christian organizations and people are: (1) Christian Evangelists and Revivalists. (2) Christian Rescue Missions. (3) YMCA lay members doing personal work. (4) The Salvation Army. (5) Young People's Christian Endeavor Society.
The purpose of this article is to point you to some people who pulled the power of God together in such a way that alcoholics and addicts could be healed at a time which spanned the period of Christian upbringing of Bill Wilson and of Dr. Bob Smith. Here we will just highlight and document some of the interesting A.A. Christian links.
We will start with the evangelist Billy Sunday. Two easily read sources are William T. Ellis, Billy Sunday: The Man and His Message (Chicago: Moody Press, 1959) and Rachael M. Phillips, Billy Sunday: Evangelist on the Sawdust Trail (Ohio: Barbour Books, 2001).
As an introduction to the Christian evangelist influences on early A.A.'s Christian recovery program, here are some facts about Billy Sunday: He was born in Iowa on November 19, 1862. By 1885, Bill had become a popular baseball player. One night, he and some other baseball players were visiting nightspots and drinking their way across downtown Chicago when they heard a hymn played by a small band. Billy sat on a curb to listen to the band and then to some mission workers who sang hymn after hymn. A young musician suggested the group go to the Pacific Garden Mission. The musician said: "You'll find God there." Billy followed and saw several drunks testify that they had been "a drunk and a thief" and that Jesus had come into their heart and relieved them of their drinking problem. Billy returned to the rescue mission. A woman asked, "Do you want to know Jesus Christ as your best friend? Do you want to ask Him to forgive your sins?" The woman's husband Colonel Clark heard, "Billy wants to invite Christ into his life." The Colonel said, "Let's ask the Lord to forgive you and help you live a new life for Him." The Colonel prayed, "Dear Lord, Billy wants to tell You he's sorry for his sins: he believes you died on the cross for him." Billy thought, "The boys will give it to me good today, but I don't care. I'm glad I went to the mission and found God." This was Bill's own conversion.
One biographer said: "Billy Sunday led more persons to make a public confession of discipleship to Jesus Christ than any other man for a century. Approximately three hundred thousand persons in twenty-five years, took Sunday's hand in token that thenceforth their lives belonged to the Saviour, Jesus Christ. . . . He set all sorts and conditions of men to talking about religion."
Billy was in great demand for Y.M.C.A talks, and he soon gave up his baseball career for a position in the Chicago Y.M.C.A. He had three years of Y.M.C.A. service. He used the rule of the rescue mission: the saved should say so [also a rule of General Booth and the Salvation Army]. He became a member and elder of the Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church in Chicago. As Dr. Bob had done in his Vermont youth days, Billy Sunday attended the Christian Endeavor Society, prayer meetings, and mid-week church service. He addressed Y.M.C.A. meetings, Sunday schools, and Christian Endeavor societies. Sunday then entered professional evangelistic work in association with Rev. J. Wilbur Chapman, D.C., well-known Presbyterian evangelist. Soon Billy was battling booze--campaigning for "dry" elections in several states. If abstinence was notsomeone's choice, Billy was for closing the saloons and prohibiting the drinking. Billy served his Presbyterian church actively and taught a Sundayschool class. He began a systematic Bible study at Chicago's Young men's Christian Association. He attended theological seminars. He addressed church groups in many cities.
Becoming very famous with a huge crusade in New York City in 1917, Billy had carried to the American public the same elements of Christian service that had dominated the youth of Dr. Bob in the late 1800's and Bill Wilson in the early 1900's. These included conversions, church attendance, Bible study, YMCA activity, prayer meetings, and the rescue missions, including the one where Bill Wilson made his decision for Jesus Christ at a later point. See Edwin Diller Starbuck, The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Study of The Growth of Religious Consciousness (London: The Walter Scott Publishing Company, n.d.), 86. They included the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor and its motto of "love and service" in which Dr. Bob had been so active in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. See Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever: From Pentecost to the Present (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 2000), 138. Even the Salvation Army was considered part of this entire revival peiod. See Towns and Porter, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever, 136.
I chose Billy Sunday for this discussion of Alcoholics Anonymous origins and Christian Healings for several reasons. First, though every Christian service activity he was involved in, save the Salvation Army, was one of the five Christian roots that impacted A.A. history--the evangelists, rescue missions, YMCA, and Christian Endeavor. Second, his insistent plea for abandoning booze while directed at salooons and toward Prohibition nonetheless sounded a loud and clear warning for drunks to stay away from liquor. Third, his involvement in conversions that healed drunks is something AAs know very little about today and yet this turning to Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, for cure is something that Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob, and the early AAs embraced. It is something that has been much in limbo since Dr. Bob's death, and it is something that Christian alcoholics and addicts are seeking more and more.
Again, see "Introductory Foundations for Christian Recovery" www.dickb.com/IFCR-Class.shtml.
Like both Bill Wilson (in the beginning) and Dr. Bob and the Akron program, Billy emphasized "service." Service to God. He said "I'd rather undertake to save ten drunkards than one old financial Shylock--it would be easier." He wrote: "The Lord says, 'He who winneth souls is wise.'" And, "Personal work is a great privilege. Not that God needs us, but that we need Him. Jesus Christ worked. 'I must do the works of him that sent me.'" William T. Ellis included Billy Sunday's famous "Booze" sermon (see pages 159-80). A few lines from Billy's closing remarks are instructive:
"I said to my friend, ' George, do you see that old drunken bum, down and out? There was a time when he was just like you. No drunkard ever intended tobe a drunkard. Every drunkard intended to be a moderate drinker. . . . I say if sin weren't so deceitful it wouldn't be so attractive. Every added drink makes it harder. . . . By the grace of God I have strength enough to pass the open saloon, but some of you can't so I owe it to you to help you" (180)
Billy's gospel message was simple. You can find it in Romans 10:9, and it's the same as that used in early A.A.:
"Conversion is a complete surrender to Jesus. . . . Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart and onfess Him with your mouth and you will be saved. God is good. The plan of salvation is presented to you in two parts. Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth."