Origins of the Christian Recovery Movement
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Effective Christian Help for Drunks by Five Important Groups & Organizations in the 1800’s—long before A.A. was founded in 1935
Young Men’s Christian Association lay workers (1870). Non-denominational work
in revival meetings with conversions and Bible studies. Galvanized the Great
Awakening of 1875 in St. Johnsbury. (Bob and Bill both had “Y” connections).
The Gospel Rescue Missions (1872) exemplified by Jerry McAuley and the Water Street
Mission in NY, NY – followed by Calvary Rescue Mission where Bill and Ebby
each separately made their decisions for Jesus Christ.
Evangelists and Revivalists (1875) Charles Finney, John B. Gough, Dwight Moody, Ira
Sankey, F. B. Meyer, Allen Folger, and Bill Sunday held huge meetings where
thousands were converted to God through Jesus Christ, and many were healed of drunkenness. Bob and Bill were each aware of them and/or exposed to their work.
The Salvation Army (1879) – made famous by Harold Begbie’s Twice-Born Men –went
into the slums to find derelicts, criminals, drunks; bring them to Jesus Christ;
teach them the Bible; changing their lives; and passing it on in “God’s Army.”
The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor (1881) – Dr. Bob and his church
active in 1890’s; world—wide membership of 4.5 million, developed a program of conversion meetings, prayer meetings, Bible studies, Quiet Hour, topical discussions, and the slogan “love and service.” A pattern for early Akron A.A.
The Christian upbringing of A.A.’s founders-to-be as youngsters in Vermont
Bill Wilson: Grandfather cured of alcoholism by conversion and spiritual experience;
attended East Dorset Congregational Church and Sunday School where his
parents and grandparents were active; studied the Bible with his grandfather
and a friend; at Burr & Burton Academy—took a four-year Bible study course,
attended chapel daily, Manchester Congregational Church weekly, and became
president of the school YMCA, with his girl friend as president of school YWCA.
Dr. Bob Smith: Judge Walter and Susan H. Smith, his parents, were Congregationalists
who emphasized salvation and the Word of God in their home; were Sunday
school teachers and superintendents at North Congregational Church; were active in the church—Judge Smith being a deacon; and the entire Smith family attending church three times on Sunday, a prayer meeting on Wednesday, and Dr. Bob active in Christian Endeavor. Judge Smith was president of the local YMCA which made presentations in the church and St. Johnsbury Academy; and Dr. Bob attended St. Johnsbury Academy where he took religious courses; his mother had been a student and teacher; his father was an Examiner; and he attended required daily chapel, a weekly Congregational Church Service, and weekly Bible study.
Turning to God through Jesus Christ major points in the lives of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob
Bill Wilson: (1) Grandfather saved and healed for life of alcoholism. (2) Bill had a
Christian upbringing at the East Dorset Congregational Church and at its Sunday School, and then at the Manchester Congregational Church, and Bill’s daily chapel and Bible studies at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester. (3) Dr. Silkworth advised Bill that Jesus Christ the Great Physician could cure him. (4) Bill’s friend Ebby made a decision for Jesus Christ at the altar at Calvary Rescue Mission and so informed Bill. (5) Ebby’s “mentor” Rowland Hazard had previously made a decision for Christ. (6) Bill himself went to Calvary Rescue Mission, made his own decision for Jesus Christ, and wrote that he was born again for sure. (7) Bill turned to God for help in Towns Hospital, had his famous “white light” experience, believed he had been in the presence of “the God of the Scriptures,” (8) Bill began carrying the message quoted today on page 191 of the Big Book that the Lord had been so wonderful to him curing him of his terrible disease that he just wanted to keep talking about it and telling people. (9) Bill began feverish witnessing with a Bible under his arm, but was unable to get a single person sober until he met Dr. Bob in Akron about 6 months later.
Dr. Bob Smith: (1) Raised a Christian in North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury,
its Sunday school, prayer meetings, Bible studies, and Christian Endeavor group, and was exposed to Christian temperance meetings. (2) Finally joined a tiny Oxford Group meeting devoted to helping him get sober. (3) Admitted to the group he was a “secret drinker” (4) Joined the group on the carpet in prayers for his deliverance. (5) Was surprisingly introduced to the stranger Bill Wilson as an answer to the prayers. (6) Grasped the importance of service—helping others—as an element of recovery he himself had not applied. (7) After one last binge, decided to quit for good about June 10, 1935, and A.A. was founded about that date.
The first A.A. Group—Akron Number One—which Dr. Bob called a “Christian Fellowship”—was founded on July 4, 1935—several weeks after A.A. itself began.
Bill and Bob told a third alcoholic—Bill Dotson--that he could be cured if he turned to God for help and then helped others. Dotson—long a Christian--then surrendered to God, was cured almost at once; and the three set about developing a program for others in the summer of 1935. Akron Number One!
Three things to remember about the original program and the program today:
1. The Original program had no Twelve Steps, no Twelve Traditions, no drunkalogs, no meetings as we know them today, and no basic text like the Big Book. It took its basic ideas from the Bible—the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. It held daily fellowships in the homes. It insisted that members believe in God and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior; study the Bible, pray together, hold Quiet Times, and help other alcoholics get well. By November of 1937, Bill and Bob counted noses and found they had achieved an astonishing, documented, 75% success rate.
2. A.A. is no longer a Christian Fellowship. It opened its doors to atheists and agnostics in 1939 with the Big Book’s publication. But today there are still tens if not hundreds of thousands of Christians in A.A. and other 12 Step groups who often hear they cannot mention Jesus Christ, they cannot study the Bible, they cannot have prayer meetings, and that they are not a religious organization—allegedly “spiritual, but not religious.”.
3. The simple abc’s in the Big Book today are as viable as they were in 1935. And AAs are free to say what they wish, believe what they wish, read what they wish, worship where they wish, and tell their stories of deliverance by God whenever they wish. They can do this because their own history shows them they can and suggests how to do it. And their own Big Book and Twelve Steps are replete with words, phrases, and ideas that make clear that trust in God, cleaning house, and serving God and others are a very important part of A..A. to this very day.
I will close by assuring you that after 24 years of continuous sobriety and 20 years of researching and learning the history of the Christian Recovery Movement as well as that of A.A. itself, I can truly tell you that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
And I believe, as Dr. Bob wrote, at the end of his personal story: “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” The simple conditions for Dr. Bob were that you believe in God; you accept His Son Jesus Christ as Lord; you obey Him; you grow in spiritual
understanding and fellowship with God, His Son, and other believers. And you help others do likewise.
There’s a miracle waiting for those that do these things, and even Bill Wilson himself spoke of it in those terms.
www.dickb.com, www.ChristianRecoveryCoalition.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 808 874 4876