You won’t learn this in A.A.’s basic text today or in our meetings. But the simplicity of early A.A. will really astound you! And we are here speaking to the pioneer A.A. Christian Fellowship in Akron that developed our program and was led by Dr. Bob. Abstinence was Number One.
Usually there was hospitalization or at least medical help to save the newcomer’s life. At the hospital, only the Bible was allowed in the room. Recovered drunks visited the patient and told their success stories. The newcomer had to identify, admit that he too was licked, and that he would do whatever it took.
Dr. Bob visited daily. Then, he would explain the “disease” as it was then understood; and, on the final day, Dr. Bob asked two questions to which there was only one answer:
Do you believe in God? Are you willing to get down on your knees and pray? Reliance on the Creator was Number Two.
The newcomer then gave his life to Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Many were too sick to venture far; so they lived with the Smiths (and later others) in Akron homes. It is a myth that they recovered in an afternoon or in four easy lessons. They shook. They shivered. They fidgeted. They forgot. They were ashamed, insecure, and guilt-ridden. But they learned from the Good Book what a loving God had made available. Obedience to God’s will was Number Three.
They were expected to walk in love and to eliminate sinful conduct from their lives. Growth in Fellowship with their Heavenly Father was Number Four. At the homes, they had daily Quiet Time (Bible study, prayer, asking guidance, reading a devotional, and discussing Anne Smith’s Journal).
They shared their woes and problems with Dr. Bob, with Anne (his wife), and with Henrietta Seiberling. They also had personal Quiet Times in their individual lives or at their home. They had one meeting a week. No drunkalogs. No whining. No psychobabble. Just prayer. Reading from Scripture. Quiet Time. Use of The Upper Room or similar devotionals for discussion. Then surrender upstairs for the newcomer in a prayer session resembling that in James 5:14-16. The newcomer confirmed his decision for Christ. [This confession of Christ by which the newcomer became born again has been confirmed as a “must” by four different and well-known A.A. old-timers–J. D. Holmes, Clarence Snyder, Larry Bauer, and Ed Andy.] At that time, the “elders” (usually Bob and T. Henry and one other) prayed with him that alcohol be taken out of his life, and joined him in asking that he be guided to live according to God’s will. Intensive help for other alcoholics was the Fifth element.
Following the surrender upstairs, downstairs there were announcements about newcomers at hospitals. Religious comradeship and attendance at a church of choice were recommended but not required. Socializing. And it started all over again. There were sessions with Dr. Bob involving a moral inventory (as to adherence to the Four Absolutes–honest, purity, unselfishness, and love), confession, prayer to have the sins removed, and plans for restitution. Did it work? You bet it did. A documented 75% success rate among the seemingly hopeless, “medically incurable” alcoholics who really tried. That was primarily among Akron members. And the fact that they had been cured by the power of God was widely publicized across America. Soon, a documented 93% in Cleveland.
That’s why the principles and practices in early A.A.–the principles that were already working in the Salvation Army, the Rescue Missions, the YMCA, and Christian Endeavor–need to be part and parcel of our own A.A. learning. A.A. is certainly no longer a Christian fellowship; nor does it any longer require belief in anything at all. But, for those who do believe in God’s healing power today, a knowledge of the simple history is vital. As reported to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., by Frank Amos: It took abstinence. It took God. It took the Bible. It took a life-change decision. It took living consistent with the decision. And it particularly emphasized witnessing to others. It took fellowship. And it took time–lots of it. And it was all just that simple–no steps and no text book. Just a Bible and several Oxford Group precepts. Just abstaining from drink and avoiding temptation. Relying on the Creator and coming to Him through His son. Obedience to His will–both in eliminating sin and in living love and service. Growing in fellowship through Bible study, prayer, asking wisdom, and study. And helping others without thought of pay. As they often put it: No pay for soul surgery!