Sunday, December 04, 2011

Alcoholics Anonymous History: The Salvation Army Influence on, and Relevance to, A.A.

Alcoholics Anonymous History

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

By Dick B. and Ken B.

© 2011 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

Rev. Francis W. McPeek delivered Lecture 26 of the Yale Summer School Lectures in 1945. It was titled “The Role of Religious Bodies in the Treatment of Inebriety in the United States.” (A.A. cofounder Bill Wilson also gave one of the lectures at the Yale Summer School that year.)   McPeek was the Executive Director of the Department of Social Welfare of the Federation of Churches in Washington, D.C. And Rev. McPeek 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 Depths).

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. [pp. 414-15 of the Yale Summer School Lectures of 1945]

The Role of Professor William James

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. (Bill was later to call James one of the “founders” of A.A.) Immediately following his own blazing “white light” conversion experience, Bill wanted to know if it was real or if he had been insane. Comforted by the assurances of his doctor, psychiatrist William D. Silkworth, Bill was told he had just had a conversion experience. Bill started reading the 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 copy was also owned and studied by A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob. And it contains this quote about William Booth by Professor James:

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. [p. 190]

The Material about Henry F. Milans

Truly, Out of the Depths: The Story of Henry F. Milans, by Clarence W. Hall, 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.

            [At the Hall] it was announced that food would be served in the 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. . . . For a week of nights Milans attended the Army’s meetings. . . . 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. . . . [H]e was going out to face a world of temptation and opposition. . . . 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! . . . . 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! [p. 128]

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. 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, 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., 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., 48.) And it certainly was among the books early AAs read. (See Dick B., The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed., 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, 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. 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. Mel B.’s New Wine 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,” 132).

The word “Army” appears frequently in Begbie’s books, particularly Twice-Born Men. One example described “The Puncher”—a reformed prize---fighter’s work in these phrases: He 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,” pp. 55-61.

Harold Begbie was also the author of the two-volume biography of General William Booth. The Life of General William Booth: The Founder of  The Salvation Army in Two Volumes.

The Research of, and appraisal by, Dr. Howard Clinebell

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. 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. [p. 189].

Clinebell points out 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 (See pp. 188-89):

ñ     The alcoholic must realize that he is unable to control his addiction and that his life is completely disorganized.

ñ     He must acknowledge that only God, his Creator, can re-create him as a decent man.

ñ     He must let God through Jesus Christ rule his life and resolve to live according to His will.

ñ     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.

ñ     He should make public confession to God and man of past wrong-doing and be willing to ask God for guidance in the future.

ñ     He should make restitution to all whom he has willfully and knowingly wronged.

ñ     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 experienced.

ñ     Since, through prayer and forgiveness, he has found God, he must continue prayerful contact with God and seek constantly to know His will.

ñ     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 Conversion Element in Early A.A. Cures

In Dick B., Real Twelve Step Fellowship History (, 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 Christ 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.

A Synopsis of Salvation Army Contributions

As with many of the other successful Christian recovery approaches, the Salvation Army approach 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 Jesus Christ was necessary, and that a “conversion 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.

Gloria Deo

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