Let us digress a bit at this time in Bill’s story to gain an understanding of the Oxford Group. An American Lutheran pastor, Frank Buckman, initiated a spiritual movement starting in the U.S. in 1908, then moved to England and by 1921 it was known as A First Century Christian Fellowship. It grew rapidly in numbers and by 1931 was referred to as the Oxford Group, then in 1939 was legally incorporated under that name. They were centered in England at Oxford. This movement became international with participation of hundreds of thousands in number in many countries of Europe, the Americas, and Asia. There were no membership rolls, no dues, no paid leaders, no theological creed, nor regular meetings. It was a fellowship of people wishing to follow their God; chosen by their understanding of a Higher Power.
Buchman paid little attention to theology as found in the scriptures, he stressed simplicity of beliefs and emphasized people are sinners, all sinners are capable of changing, confession must precede change, with a change God can be accessed directly, miracles do happen, and those individuals changed must guide others into change. With the characteristic of minimal theology this movement was accepted by other beliefs with little concern. The goal of this movement was to bring global peace through changing people from the heart outward. It concentrated its missionary effort on persons of leadership positions and of wealth. In this endeavor they were very successful.
The minimal theology of the Oxford Group consists of four absolutes: 1) absolute honesty, 2) absolute purity 3) absolute unselfishness 4) and absolute love. Spiritual practices employed were 1) Sharing (confessing) your sins with another person; 2) Surrendering your past, present, and future life unto the control of the Higher Power of one’s understanding; 3) Restitution to any one harmed; 4) Listening for God’s guidance and then following it.
It was a custom to confess one’s sins (sharing) not only to another individual but also in a public forum. The sharing of the sins of members was practiced with the idea that it would help others that as of yet had not changed to recognize they were sinners and openly confess their sins. The Oxford Group looked at alcoholism as a spiritual “disease—sin” hence the need for a spiritual solution which confession addressed; consequently a “cure” was possible. Listening for God’s guidance was done daily in early morning by private meditation, prayer and scripture study. The individual would take pen and paper and write down the directions received from God during the “silence” of meditation.
WAS THE OXFORD GROUP CHRISTIAN?
The proponents of AA have insisted that the Oxford Group was a Christian movement, but one could ask upon what basis is this comment made? Pastor H.A. Ironside, in a sermon preached in Moody Memorial Church, testified:
I have gone through book after book, supposedly setting forth the teaching of the Oxford Group Movement, and have not found one reference to the precious blood of Christ in any of them, nor any reference to the fact that the worst sin that any one can possibly commit is the sin of rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘There is none other name under heaven given among men, where by ye must be saved’ (Acts 4:12)
There were practices of the Oxford Group that were not in harmony with Christian theology. These included choosing a god of your understanding and not the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God who came in the flesh, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Also their method of confession, that of personal sins being “shared” in a public forum is not Biblical. The scripture text in James 5 that tells us to “confess our faults one to another” is telling us to confess to our brother when we have faulted him, not to share it with everyone. We are to confess our sins to God and not to mortal man unless we have faulted him.
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess (your) faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5: 15,16
The English word “meditation” often leads to confusion. It has a dual meaning and sometimes it is difficult to differentiate as to which meaning is meant when the word is used. One meaning is referring to a deep thought and study attitude wherein our mind is most active upon a subject; another definition refers to an empting of the mind, a cessation of active thought, placing the thought process in neutral. Often it is necessary to look at the setting in which the word is used to know the intention of the author. Such is the case in its use in writings pertaining to the Oxford Group.
Also it had become a practice of the Oxford Group to hold meditation sessions. Members would sit, pencils in hand, waiting to jot down any “guidance” that might come through during their silences,…
An Oxford Group member, C. Irving Benson, who was also a minister, gave caution concerning the Quiet Time/guidance in spite of the Bible being read during this period.
The silence becomes a sacrament wherein God comes to us ….
I wait in self-forgetting silence, contemplating the presence of God.
Pastor H.A. Ironside, a noted fundamental evangelist of the 1930’s and 1940’s, was very familiar with the Oxford Group and carefully evaluated their teachings. He made the following comment in regards to their meditation practices in a small booklet he wrote entitled, The Oxford Group Movement: Is It Scriptural?
Each (Oxford Group) member is urged…to sit quietly with the mind emptied of every thought…waiting for God to say something to them…sometimes they tell me nothing happens, at other times the most amazing things come. Tested by the Word of God, many of these things are unscriptural. They lay themselves open for demons to communicate their blasphemous thoughts to them. (emphasis in original quote)
Robert Thomsen wrote in his biography Bill W.:
…that it had become a practice of the Oxford Group members to hold meditation sessions. They would sit, pencils in hand, waiting to jot down any guidance that might come through during the silences and it was extraordinary how many times that winter the message from on high would indicate that Bill Wilson should get himself a job and leave his drunks in peace.
Two women identifying themselves only as “Two Listeners” wrote the book, God Calling wherein they received Quiet/Time “guidance” in the manner outlined by the Oxford Group. They tell us they received the words of Christ Jesus on a daily basis. These words they received were not from the Holy Scriptures but out of meditation of “guidance.” One of the two “Listeners” wrote the introduction for the book and entitled it The Voice Divine, wherein she speaks of the experience of the other “Listener” receiving guidance.
But with my friend a very wonderful thing happened. From the first, beautiful messages were given to her by our Lord Himself, and every day from then these messages have never failed us.
We felt all unworthy and over whelmed by the wonder of it, and could hardly realize that we were being taught, trained and encouraged day by day by HIM personally, when millions of souls, far worthier, had to be content with guidance from the Bible, sermons, their Churches, books and other sources.
A prior Oxford Group member, then later an AA member, Richmond Walker, wrote a small book, Twenty-Four Hours a Day. This book had much in it that was based on the book, God Calling by the two “Listeners.” He did not refer to Jesus Christ but substituted words that fit a universal spirituality. The book, Twenty-Four Hours a Day, millions of AA members have read. AA history website says of Twenty-Four Hours a Day:
The book explained how to practice meditation by quieting the mind and entering the Divine Silence in order to enter the divine peace and calm and restore our souls. (emphasis added)
Modern Mystics describe “silence” as in Three Magic Words by Uell S. Anderson:
The brain is stilled. The man at last lets go; he glides below it into the quiet feeling, the quiet sense of his own identity with the self of other things-of the universe. He glides past the feeling into the very identity itself where a glorious all consciousness leaves no room for separate self thoughts or emotions. (emphasis added)
I turn from the world about me to the world of consciousness that lies within. I shut out all memories of the past, create no images of the future. I concentrate on my being, on my awareness. I slide deep into the very recesses of my soul to a place of utter repose. I know, I know that this is Immortal Self, this is God, this is me, I am, I always was, I always will be. (emphasis added)
Twenty-four Hours in a Day states:
There is a spark of the Divine in every one of us. Each has some of God’s spirit that can be developed by spiritual exercise.
The Oxford Group Movement promoted several additional books for study. One was given to Bill W. by Ebby Thatcher shortly after Bill’s conversion. This book was Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, M.D. James was professor of psychiatry and philosophy at Harvard and a contemporary of Freud and Jung. He, too, (James) was a renowned spiritualist.
“… Bill learned that even his experience at Towns was not unique. He could never recollect if it had been Ebby or Roland who gave him a copy of William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, but he remembered the impact of the book. It was James’s theory that spiritual experiences could have a very definite objective reality and might totally transform a man’s life.
…as Bill Pittman has found, The varieties of Religious Experience was “the most often quoted book” in Oxford literature,…
The Oxford Group considered “sin” as a moral issue and hence confessing a prerequisite to conversion which would be the solution for sin. They also looked at alcohol as a sin and hence with a conversion it could be cured. Their style of conversion did not depend upon a person accepting by faith Jesus Christ and His shed blood as a propitiation for their sins. The entire system of the Oxford Group appears to leave Jesus Christ the Divine Son of God out of equation and so man attempts to save himself.
The doctrine of pantheism—the Divinity of man and salvation through progression of the divinity of man is seen in the teachings of the Oxford Group. Will this same teaching be seen in Alcoholics Anonymous teachings? Are these teachings of the Oxford Group Judeo-Christian doctrine? That is something the reader must decide!