What was early A.A. was really like?

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!

Source: Dick B. Website

2 thoughts on “What was early A.A. was really like?

  1. Thanks for the article. It reminds me how we all see and hear things, not as they are, but how we already think that they are. I find that Christians always see things the way that Dick does. How could it be any other way? If you believe in God who sent his only Son for the salvation of only those who would say that it is so, and that every other belief system is wrong or blasphemy, well then how could you possibly conceive of people saying “Group of Drunks” or Nature, or whatever could suffice? You couldn’t. Your faith has no room for it. That is natural.

    I don’t put too much stock in Dick’s interpretation because he seems to confuse AA with the Oxford Group – they are not the same. He touts that AA was better in Akron because of the strong Christian persuasion in the message, but there were many people who were sober in NY, who he crosses off the list because they “Failed to gain long term sobriety.”

    I don’t think this is a fair way to represent the material. If AA worked and the individual stopped working it and later got drunk, is it fair to take that person out of the statistic? One of my very good friends in AA has been around longer than my 20 years, but he has had 8 years twice and now has 3. Am I to assume that somehow my sobriety is better than his because it is continuous? I can tell you with certainty that the difference is that he stopped working with others, stopped working P84 – P87, didn’t come to meetings, but when he was with us, he was all the way with us.

    I don’t judge his sobriety by the length of it, as many people in AA do. Trust me when I tell you, that is the surest way to follow the wrong people. I know old timers who have nothing I want, and I know people with les s than a year who got this thing early and seize it like a life-preserver and teach me about recovery on a regular basis. Don’t let time fool you!

    I don’t believe that the Christian angle produces better results. Dick has some figures he uses that are compelling, but my experience is exactly the opposite. Many of the people that I see that latch on tightly to the Bible and Christian fellowship do worse than those who remain open to God revealing himself without the preconceived belief system. But then again, that just might be me seeing things, not as they are, but as I already think they are.

  2. The writer has not acquainted himself with my 19 years of research and 33 published books. If anyone cares to look at the information about A.A.’s sixteen well-springs including the Bible, Quiet Time, conversion, James, Jung, Shoemaker, and all the rest, he will see how little the Oxford Group had to do with the early A.A. program reported and summarized by Frank Amos and published in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. I much prefer viewing writings which cite authority rather than express undocumented or erroneous opinions.

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