The Oxford Group






   Perhaps no other topic has more of a charge in the halls of recovery than does religion.  The spiritual mandates of 12 Steps are clear and their historical origins are well known.  The development of Alcoholics Anonymous, with its origins in the Oxford Groups, has a very distinct Judeo-Christian heritage.  Indeed, the "Oxford Groups" were regarded as practicing first century Christianity.  But the wisdom of the founding fathers in AA was shown when they penned the Third Step, "We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him."  They understood the pervasive shame of being alcoholic, and they resented anyone else telling them they were sinners.  They were quite capable of self-condemnation all by themselves, they didn't didn't need any help from holier-than-thou hypocrites they had seen in the bars themselves!  Being free to approach God or a Higher Power without pre-conditions is a wonderful freedom, and it places the choice for surrender squarely on the free will of the alcoholic seeking recovery.


   But there are a host of Christian-oriented 12 Step programs, from Alcoholics Victorious, Alcoholics for Christ, Addiction Victorious, and Celebrate Recovery.  There have been some secular, non-spiritual self-help programs that have also developed to respond to those who simply cannot, or will not, embrace a spiritual pathway.  These include Life Ring: Secular Recovery, SMART Recovery, and Rational Recovery.  But is impossible to understand the Christian influence in recovery without understanding it roots in the Oxford Groups.  And one established, the 12 Step recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous were easily cross-referenced with the Bible.


   But perhaps the best place to start is with a classic description of addiction, as the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:


 Romans 7:15-24


   15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 1  7 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.      For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.


    21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22  For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?


   Long before Dr. Benjamin Rush described alcoholism as a disease, or Dr. Silkworth informed Bill Wilson that he had the disease of alcoholism, a "physical allergy coupled with a mental obsession,"  this passage from the Bible served as an excellent working definition of the disease of addiction. It had its roots in the body, and spread through the mind and soul. 


    The Oxford Groups

     (Article form Wikipedia)
   The Oxford Group was a Christian movement that had a following in Europe and America in the 1920s and 30s that was founded by an American pastor Dr. Frank Buchman. In 1908 he had a powerful conversion experience which led him to found a movement called the First Century Christian Fellowship.  By 1931 this movement had grown dramatically and attracted thousands of international adherents.  Many of Buckman's followers were well to do, and they soon formed what became known as the Oxford Group as they had started at Oxford University in England.

   Unlike other forms of evangelism, the Oxford Groups targeted and directed its efforts to the "upper crust" the elites and wealthy of society.  They publicized their prominent members and were characterized by some as snobs.  Both founders of AA, Bill Wilson, a Wall Street broker, and Bob Smith, a physician, belong to the Oxford Groups.  Early AA sought to distance itself from thr Oxford Groups, but Wilson later acknowledged that "Early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else." 

   Oxford Group literature defines the group as not being a religion; it had no hierarchy, no temples, no funds, its workers were not paid.  Their chief aim was "A new world order for Christ, the King."  As a matter of fact, one could not "belong" to the Oxford Group for it had no membership list, badges, or definite location. It was simply a group of people from all walks of life who have surrendered their life to God. They tried to lead a spiritual life under God's Guidance and their purpose was to carry their message so others could do the same. A newspaper account in 1933 described it as "personal evangelism -- one man talking to another or one woman discussing her problems with another woman was the order of the day."  The influence of the Oxford Groups on 12 Step recovery is clear; it was simply being adapted to the single focus of addiction recovery.

   The Spiritual Principles Utilized by Oxford Groups

   The Four Absolutes

   Moral standards of absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love, though recognized as impossible to attain, were guidelines to help determine whether a course of action was directed by God. In Oxford terms sin: "anything that kept one from God or one another", "as contagious as any bodily disease". "The soul needs cleaning "... We all know ‘nice’ sinless sinners who need that surgical spiritual operation as keenly as the most miserable sinner of us all. Buchman obtained use of the four absolutes through his teacher Robert E Speer and his book "the Principles of Jesus".

   Spiritual Practices

   To be spiritually reborn, the Oxford Group advocated four practices:

    1. The sharing of our sins and temptations with another Christian life given to God.

    2. Surrender our life past, present and future, into God's keeping and direction.

    3. Restitution to all whom we have wronged directly or indirectly.

    4. Listening for God's guidance, and carrying it out.


   The central practice to the Oxford/MRA members was guidance, which was usually sought in the "quiet time" of early morning using pen and paper. The grouper would normally read the Bible or other spiritual literature, then take time in quiet with pen and paper, seeking God's direction for the day ahead, trying to find God's perspective on whatever issues were on the listener's mind. He or she would test their thoughts against the standards of absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, and normally check with a colleague.

   Five C's and Five Procedures

   The five C's: confidence, confession, conviction, conversion, and continuance was the process of life changing undertaken by the life changer. Confidence, the new person had to have confidence in you and know you would keep confidences. Confession, honesty about the real state of a persons life. Conviction, the seriousness of his sin and the need to free of it. Conversion, the process had to be the persons own free will in the decision to surrender to God. Continuance, you were responsible as a life changer to help the new person become all that God wanted him to be. Only God could change a person and the work of the life changer had to be done under God's direction.

   Oxford Group: Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous

   In Akron, Ohio, Jim Newton an Oxford Group member knew that one of Firestone's sons, Russell, was a serious alcoholic. He took him first to a drying-out clinic and then on to an Oxford Group conference in Denver. The young man gave his life to God, and thereafter enjoyed extended periods of sobriety. The family doctor called it a ‘medical miracle’. Harvey Firestone Senior was so grateful that, in January 1933, he invited Buchman and a team of sixty to conduct a ten-day campaign in Akron. They left behind them a strong functioning group which met each week in the house of T. Henry Williams, amongst whom were an Akron surgeon, Bob Smith, and his wife Anne. Bob was a secret drinker.

   Rowland Hazard, claimed that it was Carl Jung who caused him to seek a spiritual solution to his alcoholism, which led to Rowland joining the Oxford group. He was introduced by Shep Cornell to Cornell's friend Ebby Thacher, Ebby had a serious drinking problem. Hazard introduced Ebby to Carl Jung's theory and then to the Oxford Group. For a time Ebby took up residence at Sam Shoemaker's Calvary Rescue Mission.[113] Reverend Sam Shoemaker ran the Calvary Rescue Mission that catered mainly to saving down-and-outs and drunks. Sam Shoemaker taught the concept of God being that of one's understanding to the new inductees. [114]

   Ebby Thacher, in keeping with the Oxford Teachings, needed to keep his own conversion experience real by carrying the Oxford message of salvation to others. Ebby had heard of his old drinking buddy Bill Wilson was again drinking heavily. Thacher and Cornell visited Wilson at his home and introduced him to the Oxford Group's religious conversion cure. Wilson an agnostic, was "aghast" when Thacher told him he had "got religion".[115]

   A few days later, in a drunken state, Wilson went to the Calvary Rescue Mission in search of Ebby Thacher. It was there that he attended his first Oxford Group meeting and would later describe the experience: "Penitents started marching forward to the rail. Unaccountably impelled, I started too.... Soon, I knelt among the sweating, stinking penitents... Afterward, Ebby... told me with relief that I had done all right and had given my life to God."[116]The Call to the Altar did little to curb Wilson's drinking. A couple of days later, he re-admitted himself to Charles B. Towns Hospital. Wilson had been admitted to Towns hospital three times earlier between 1933 and 1934. This would be his fourth and last stay. [117]

   Wilson did not obtain his spiritual awakening by his attendance at the Oxford Group. He had his "hot flash" conversion at Town's Hospital. The hospital was set up and run by Charles B. Towns and his associate Dr. Alexander Lambert, who together had concocted up a drug cocktail for the treatment of alcoholism that bordered on quackery medicine known as the The Belladonna Cure. The formula cure consisted of the two deliriants Atropa belladonna and Hyoscyamus niger, which are were known to cause hallucinations. Wilson had his "hot flash" spiritual awakening, while being treated with these drugs. He claimed to have seen a white light and when he told his attending physician, Dr. William Silkworth about his experience, he was advised not to discount it. When Wilson left the hospital he never drank again. [118].

   After his release from the Hospital, Wilson attended Oxford Group meetings and went on a mission to save other alcoholics. His prospects came through Towns Hospital and the Calvary Mission. Though he was not able to keep one alcoholic sober, he found that by engaging in the activity of trying to convert others he was able to keep himself sober. It was this realization, that he needed another alcoholic to work with, that brought him into contact with Dr. Bob Smith while on a business trip in Akron Ohio. Earlier Wilson had been advised by Dr. Silkworth to change his approach and tell the alcoholics they suffered from a disease, one that could kill them, and afterward apply the Oxford Practices. This is what he brought to Bob Smith on their first meeting. Smith was the first alcoholic Wilson helped to sobriety. Dr. Smith and Bill he was later called went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous.

   Wilson later acknowledged: "The early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else."

I   n 1939 James Houck joined the Oxford Group and became sober on Dec. 12, one day after Wilson did.[citation needed] AA was founded on June 10, 1935, the first day of Dr. Bob's sobriety. Houck was the last surviving person to have attended Oxford Group meetings with Wilson, who died in 1971. In September 2004, at the age of 98, Houck was still active in the group, now renamed Moral Re-armament, and it was his mission to restore the Oxford Group's spiritual methods through the Back to Basics program, a twelve step program similar to A.A. Houck believed the old Oxford spiritual methods were stronger and more effective than the ones currently practiced in A.A. Houck was trying to introduce the program into the prison systems.[119]

   Houck's assessment of Wilson's time in the Oxford group: He was never interested in the things we were interested in; he only wanted to talk about alcoholism; he was not interested in giving up smoking; he was a ladies man and would brag of his sexual exploits with other members, and in Houck's opinion he remained an agnostic. [120]

   For more details on this topic, see articles on Alcoholics Anonymous and the History of AA.