Series on A.A.’s Biblical Roots
2001) Part Two
was an AA History seminar/ conference
Impact of Dr. Bob’s Religious Training
and Knowledge of the Bible
His Training and Study
Dr. Bob said about his training as
a youngster, his Bible study, and
childhood through high school I was
more or less forced to go to church,
Sunday School and evening service,
Monday night Christian Endeavor and
sometimes to Wednesday evening prayer
meeting (Dr. Bob’s personal story,
Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st
ed., p. 183).
had refreshed my memory of the Good Book,
and I had had excellent training in that
as a youngster (The Co-Founders of Alcoholics
Anonymous, pp. 11-12).
somewhat allergic to work, but I felt I
should continue to increase my familiarity
with the Good Book and also read a good
deal of standard literature, possibly of
a scientific nature. So I did cultivate
the habit of reading. I think I’m not exaggerating
when I say I have probably averaged an hour
a day for the last 15 years (The Co-Founders
of Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 13).
didn’t write the Twelve Steps. I had nothing
to do with the writing of them. . . . We
already had the basic ideas, though not
in terse and tangible form. We got them.
. . as a result of our study of the Good
Book (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers,
Sermon on the Mount [Matthew, Chapters 5-7]
contains the underlying spiritual philosophy
of A.A. (a statement frequently made by
Bill Wilson and by Dr. Bob, Dick B., Why
Early A.A. Succeeded, p. 228).
someone asked him [Dr. Bob] a question about
the program, his usual response was: "What
does it say in the Good Book?" (DR.
BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 144).
the next two and a half years, Bob attended
Oxford Group meetings regularly and gave
much time and study to its philosophy. .
. . "I read everything I could find,
and talked to everyone who I thought knew
anything about it," Dr. Bob said. He
read the Scriptures, studied the lives of
the saints, and did what he could to soak
up the spiritual and religious philosophies
of the ages (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers,
[the early AAs] were convinced that the
answer to their problems was in the Good
Book. To some of us older ones, the parts
we found absolutely essential were the Sermon
on the Mount, the 13th chapter
of First Corinthians, and the Book of James
(DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers,
Dr. Bob’s kids had to say:
was no program. Dad and Mom and Bill were
working out the program. At that time I
was getting involved with quiet times they
had in the morning. The guys would come,
and mom would have her quiet time with them.
. . . They read the Bible, prayed and listened,
and got guidance (Remarks of Dr. Bob’s daughter
Sue Windows, Children of the Healer,
there was a Big Book–in the period of "flying
blind," God’s Big Book was the ref
reference used in our home. The summer of
1935, when Bill lived with us, Dr. Bob had
read the Bible completely three times. And
the references that seemed consistent with
the program goals were the Sermon on the
Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, and the Book of
James (Foreword by Dr. Bob’s son Robert
R. Smith, The Good Book and The Big Book,
Bill Wilson saw and reported:
his stay with Dr. Bob and Anne Smith in
the summer of 1935]: I learned a great deal
from you people [T. Henry and Clarace Williams],
from the Smiths themselves, and from Henrietta
[Seiberling]. I hadn’t looked in the Bible,
up to this time, at all. You see, I had
the [conversion] experience and then this
rushing around to help drunks and nothing
happened (Dick B., The Akron Genesis
of Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64).
of the summer, 1935]: Each morning there
was devotion. After the long silence Anne
would read out of the Good Book. James was
our favorite (RHS, p. 5).
of the summer, 1935]: We much favored the
Apostle James. The definition of love in
Corinthians also played a great part in
our discussions (Kurtz, Not-God, p. 320,
of the summer, 1935]: Bill Wilson found
himself in awe of Dr. Bob’s "spiritual
know ledge" and cherished the guidance
of Anne as each morning her pleasant voice
read and interpreted the Christian Scriptures
and the Oxford Group devotional books (Kurtz,
Not-God, p. 31).
others said. . .
Bob’s morning devotion consisted of a short
prayer, a 20-minute study of a familiar
verse from the Bible, and a quiet period
of waiting for directions as to where he,
that day, should find use for his talent.
Having heard, he would religiously go about
his Father’s business, as he put it (DR.
BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 314).
gathered there [at the Smith home] as well
as attending the Oxford Group meetings at
the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams.
Early members described how, at their meeting,
Bob liked to sit with an open Bible on his
lap, out of which a passage would be selected
at random and read. A discussion would then
follow on its relevance to the personal
problems of those present. The emphasis
was on day-to-day living, how to cope with
personal problems, and self-examination
(Nell Wing, Grateful to Have Been
There, p. 81).
had much prayer together in those days and
began quietly to read Scripture and discuss
a practical approach to its application
in our lives (DR. BOB and the Good
Oldtimers, p. 111).
course the Bible ought to be the main Source
Book of all. No day ought to pass without
reading it (remarks about reading by Dr.
Bob’s wife. Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal,
Time–Bible study, prayer, seeking guidance–a
will have much more to say about Quiet Time
in another session. See also our Appendix
on Meditation. It all had roots in much
of the material Dr. Bob read, in the practices
of the preachers of the 1800's, in Oxford
Group customs, and in actual and immense
amount of quiet time observed by A.A. pioneers.
For background, see Dick B., Good Morning!
Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and
important point here is that this idea of
morning Bible study, prayer, and listening
for God’s "Voice" can be found
in the YMCA, the Christian literature fifty
to seventy-five years before A.A., and certainly
fifty years before the Oxford Group. In
fact, it can be found quite frequently and
in varying phraseology in the Good Book
itself. It can most assuredly be found in
Christian Endeavor–the youth group in which
Dr. Bob was trained in these matters and
into which we shall now delve.
Endeavor - A Glimpse at Its History and
Resource and Reference Titles
ignored in previous "histories"
of A.A. is the place of Christian Endeavor
in the sources
of A.A. ideas. Hence it is important to
have before us the materials that document
what I am about to report. These excellent
Francis E. Christian Endeavor in All
Lands. Official ed., The United Society
of Christian Endeavor, 1908.
Memoirs of Many Men in Many Lands.
Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor,
Mark O. Streams. Alaska: Fritz Creek
James DeForest. Successful C.E. Prayer-Meetings.
Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company,
Samuel P. History of the Evangelical
Church: For the Use of Young People, Members
of the Evangelical League of Christian Endeavor,
etc. OH: Publishing House of the Evangelical
Amos R. Expert Endeavor. A Text-book
of Christian Endeavor Methods and Principles.
Boston: International Society of Christian
Founding, and World-wide Proportions of
Francis E. Clark, D.D., LL.D., was the founder
and President of the United Society of Christian
Endeavor. He was the author of many titles,
the most important of which (for our purposes)
were Christian Endeavor in All Lands:
A Record of Twenty-Five Years of Progress
and Clark’s autobiography, Memories
of Many Men in Many Lands.
2, 1881 marked the formation of the first
society of Christian Endeavor at 62 Neal
Street, the Parsonage of Williston Church,
Portland, Maine. The movement grew with
phenomenal rapidity year by year in America.
Foundations for large expansion of its work
were laid in India, China, Turkey, and Mexico.
And in the Kingdom of Hawaii, the first
society outside the United States was established
in 1883. Large conventions followed with
The National Christian Endeavor convention
of 1892 in New York City, being the most
notable to that date. Some 25,000 young
people attended it at Madison Square Garden
(See Many Men in Many Lands,
pp. 77-81, 107-08)
Church is regarded as the Birthplace of
Christian Endeavor. But its seeds were sown
much earlier by the Puritans of the Massachusetts
Colony. For in June, 1741, the young people
of the North Parish of Bridgewater (now
Brockton) in Massachusetts, adopted an agreement
reciting that the youth, through the grace
of God, had been awakened to be concerned
about the things that belong to their everlasting
peace and would remember their Creator in
the days of their youth [See Ecclesiastes
12:1: "Remember now thy Creator in
the days of thy youth. . ."]. But the
years brought a great loss from the Sunday-school
and in Christian families of young people
who did not walk in their fathers’ ways,
and were lost to the church. And this meant
the ushering in of what was sometimes called
the "Young People’s Era." Young
Men’s Christian Association was formed.
Some thought there was a tendency to do
"too much for the young people rather
than allowing them to do what they could
for themselves and others." The response
was "that those who should be won for
the Christian life must minister, and not
merely be ministered unto" [See Matthew
20:28: "Even as the Son of man came
not to be ministered unto, but to minister,
and to give his life a ransom for many"].
And the thrust of the new picture was the
Week of Prayer in 1881 when many young people
were led to decide to live for Christ and
to acknowledge Him by joining the church
(See Christian Endeavor in All Lands,
those days, Christian Endeavor pivoted on
the prayer-meeting. The Original Constitution
declared the object to be "to promote
an earnest Christian life among its members,
to increase their mutual acquaintance, and
to make them more useful in the service
of God." The most important clause
of the constitution stated: "It is
expected that all active members of this
society will be present at every meeting
unless detained by some absolute necessity,
and that each one will take some part, however
slight, in every meeting." Clark said
that the young men and women who were members
of Pastor Pennell’s class of young people
and of Mrs. Clark’s girls of the Mizpah
Circle affixed their names to the constitution–twenty
names in all, including Pennell’s. Clark
described them as "active, energetic,
fun-loving young people, just such as can
be gathered in any church to-day. But they
were Christian young people. Their hearts
were touched by love for Him who gave Himself
for them, and they sincerely desired to
do His will" (See Christian
Endeavor in All Lands, pp. 34-41).
first prayer-meeting of the society was
held a few days after the organization.
A young man was in the chair as leader.
Forty young people, more or less, with Scripture
verses and sentences of prayer, and some
with longer testimonies or exhortations,
held forth at that first meeting. Most important,
Clark said it was "an organization
as nearly self-governing and self-propagating
as any organization can be had come into
existence in Williston Church." Within
a year, there were at least four other societies,
one in Rhode Island, another in Portland,
and still another in Vermont. (See Christian
Endeavor in All Lands, pp. 42-59).
conclude the review of Clark’s lengthy descriptions
by pointing to the emergence of the "Quiet
Hour." Clark recounts:
it was proposed that those who wished should
band themselves together in a purely voluntary
organization called "the Comrades of
the Quiet Hour." The name was chosen
rather than the similar name of "The
Morning Watch" in order to give the
utmost freedom as to the time which should
be devoted to meditation and personal communion
with God, though the morning hour was strongly
recommended. Those who became "comrades"
agreed to spend fifteen minutes a day not
merely in Bible-reading and petition, but
in genuine personal communion with the Unseen.
. . and testimonies began to pour in from
all directions, of the exceeding value of
a "Quiet Hour" in personal experience.
. . . Quiet Hour literature began to abound;
"Quiet Hours" led by some of the
most eminent Christians in the land began
to be held (See Clark, Christian Endeavor
in All Lands, p. 357).
look at the Principles and Practices of
the most useful research guides are Wells’
Expert Endeavor and Murch’s Successful
Prayer-Meetings. Professor Amos R. Wells
was, among other things, Editor of The
Christian Endeavor World. Murch built
upon the text-books of Wells and the works
of Clark; and Murch laid out hundreds of
specifics for CE prayer-meetings and other
are some vignettes which require more research,
some of which I am currently
undertaking. The research involves the questions:
What did Christian Endeavor do? And, what
literature did they study? This is important
because it illustrates that the ideas of
Frank Buchman, his Oxford Group, and Rev.
Sam Shoemaker were in circulation before
1900 and at the period of Dr. Bob’s youth.
For a beginning, let’s start with the "Official
Edition,"Christian Endeavor in All
Lands, written by the Rev. Francis E.
Clark, D.D., LL.D., Founder of the Christian
Endeavor Movement. In this title, Reverend
roots of the Christian Endeavor tree, wherever
it grows, are Confession of Christ, Service
for Christ, Fellowship with Christ's people,
and Loyalty to Christ's Church. The farther
I travel, the more I see of societies in
every land, the more I am convinced that
these four principles are the essential
and the only essential principles of the
Christian Endeavor Society. Let me repeat
them:—I. Confession of Christ. II. Service
for Christ. III. Fellowship with Christ's
people. IV. Loyalty to Christ's Church (p.
to the first principle—Confession of Christ—Clark
Confession of Christ is absolutely
necessary in the Christian Endeavor Society.
. . . . Every week comes the prayer-meeting,
in which every member who fulfills his vow
must take some part. . . . This participation
is simply the confession of Christ. The
true Christian Endeavorer does not take
part to exhibit his rhetoric, or to gain
practice in public speaking, or to show
what a logical prayer he can offer to God;
but he does take part to show that he is
a Christian, to confess his love for the
Lord. . . . The covenant pledge is simply
a tried and proved device to secure frequent
confession of Christ. . . . It also secures
familiarity with the Word of God by promoting
Bible-reading and study in preparation for
every meeting. . . . Our form of confession
is the prayer-meeting (Clark, Christian
Endeavor in All Lands, pp. 94, 96).
also referred to the remarks of the Rev.
F. B. Meyer, who not only had a substantial
influence on Oxford Group development and
on early A.A. ideas, but was president of
the British Christian Endeavor Union. Clark
quoted Meyer as follows:
Endeavor stands for five great principles:
(1) Personal devotion to the divine Lord
and Saviour, Jesus Christ. . . . (2) The
covenant obligation embodied in our pledge.
. . . (3) Constant religious training for
all kinds of service. . . . (4) Strenuous
loyalty to the local church and denomination
with which each society is connected. (5)
Interdenominational spiritual fellowship
(Clark, Christian Endeavor in All Lands,
simple form of the much-mentioned "covenant,"
said Clark, was this:
in the Lord Jesus for strength, I promise
Him that I will strive to do whatever He
would like to have me do; that I will pray
and read the Bible every day; and that,
just so far as I know how, I will endeavor
to lead a Christian life. I will be present
at every meeting of the society, unless
prevented by some reason which I can conscientiously
give to my Saviour, and will take part in
the meeting, either by prayer, testimony,
or a Bible verse. As an active member of
this society I promise to be faithful to
my own church, and to do all I can to uphold
its works and membership (Clark, Christian
Endeavor in All Lands, p. 252).
to Clark, "Every Endeavor meeting has
its topic, with many Scripture references
and abundant helps" (Christian Endeavor
in All Lands, supra, p. 261). We can
remember here that the early A.A. meetings
took a similar turn, and even today, many
A.A. meetings use a "topic" either
for discussion or which the speaker introduces
mentioned and recommended a Christian Endeavor
text-book written by Amos R. Wells, Editorial
Secretary of the United Society of Christian
Endeavor. Wells’s book was titled: Expert
Endeavor: A Text-book of Christian Endeavor
Methods and Principles. And here are
some of the things Wells had to say about
"the prayer meeting":
are the results that we may gain from the
prayer meeting? They are five: original
thought on religious subjects; open committal
to the cause of Christ; the helpful expression
of Christian thought and experience; the
cultivation of the spirit of worship through
public prayer and through singing; the guidance
of others along all these lines of service
and life (p. 9).
can we get original thought on the prayer-meeting
topics? Only by study of the Bible,
followed by meditation and observation.
First, the Endeavorer should read the Bible
passage; then he should read some good commentary
upon it; then he should take the subject
with him into his daily life for five or
six days, thinking about it in his odd minutes
and watching for experiences in his own
life or the lives of others, or observing
nature and looking for illustrations on
the subject from all these sources (pp.
we to read Bible verses and other quotations?
Yes, all we please, if we will make them
the original expression of our own lives
by thinking about them, and adding to them
something, if only a sentence, to show that
we have made them our own. Always give the
writer's name, or the part of the Bible
from which you quote. Commit the quotation
to memory and do not read it (p. 11).
Christian Endeavor segments provide real
insight into the frequent descriptions in
A.A.'s DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers
of Dr. Bob's intensive study of the Bible;
his ability to quote Scripture freely; his
using Scripture to answer questions about
the A.A. program; his emphasis on, and practice
of, prayer three times a day; his stress
on outside reading of Christian literature,
prayer and meditation at early A.A. meetings;
and the use of many "outside"
(non-Oxford Group) devotionals. The quotations
also help to underscore and explain Dr.
Bob's own very clear and continued allegiance
to Jesus Christ and to Christian Fellowship
throughout his days.
Endeavor Principles and Practices Traceable
to Early A.A.
Wilson himself frequently pointed out that
nobody invented A.A. Its ideas came from
a number of people, books, and movements.
And the mention of one source does not mean
that other sources can be ignored. Thus,
Christian Endeavor had no corner on the
Bible-reading market. Dr. Frank Buchman,
founder of the Oxford Group, was said to
be "soaked in the Bible." Buchman
hired a Bible teacher (Mary Angevine) to
lead East Coast Oxford Group people in study,
and often quoted the Bible and urged the
study of it. Rev. Sam Shoemaker was called
a "Bible Christian," and there
is scarcely a book or sermon or article
by Shoemaker that does not touch on the
Bible. So also Anne Smith’s Journal, the
Quiet Time devotionals, and the Christian
literature early AAs studied. In fact, the
progenitors and mentors of the Oxford Group–who
wrote so much about, and regularly quoted
Scripture–were also the mentors of other
groups that contributed to A.A. ideas–groups
such as the Y.M.C.A., the Salvation Army,
and the Student Christian Movement.
Christian Fellowship, Confession of Christ,
the emphasis on Bible study, use of Bibles
in meetings, encouragement of loyalty to
one’s church, prayer meetings, fellowship
with believers, and bringing people to Jesus
Christ can be identified much more readily
with Christian Endeavor than with the other
oft-mentioned A.A. roots. And Christian
Endeavor principles and practices were strictly
biblical and not simply a product of the
many formulae found in many Oxford Group
practices–Oxford Group ideas which, though
derived from Bible sources, were not themselves
to be found in the Bible. Ideas such as
the Five C’s, the Four Absolutes, Restitution,
then is a summary of those Christian Endeavor
principles which seem to have been heavily
and uniquely utilized by Dr. Bob and the
Akron A.A. pioneers.
of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour
"required" surrenders to Jesus
Christ and confession of Jesus as Lord in
Akron, with spinoffs found in the later
Steps Three and Seven.
Bible study and Bible references by individuals
Bible study and references to the Bible
were regular fare in Akron meetings, Bible
study, and group Quiet Times, with spinoffs
found in the later Step Eleven.
reading of devotionals and "helpful
pioneers were regular students of The
Upper Room, The Runner’s Bible,
and other Christian books and pamphlets
such as The Greatest Thing in the World
and The Sermon on the Mount, just
as Christian Endeavor people were, with
spinoffs found in the Big Book discussion
of using "helpful books" recommended
by one’s rabbi, minister, or priest.
and private prayer
prayers at meetings and as individuals,
with spinoffs as to prayer found throughout
the Big Book, particularly in Step Eleven,
and even in the opening and closing of today’s
Meditation and Quiet Time
from the same mentors, such as F. B. Meyer,
who inspired Christian Endeavor leaders,
Harry Emerson Fosdick, Frank Buchman, and
Sam Shoemaker, to observe "Morning
Watch," with spinoffs in later Step
one’s life to Christian standards
Endeavor was no less tuned to Christian
moral standards than was the Oxford Group
with its Four Absolutes, emphasis on the
Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13,
with spinoffs in the "principles"
of the A.A. such as honesty, kindness, and
A.A. was a Christian Fellowship, and the
service aspect was spun off to the Big Book
statement that our main purpose is to be
of maximum service to God and our fellows.
from the carrying of the Gospel message
that was enjoined by Jesus upon the Apostles,
then disciples, and then believers (See
Mark, Chapter 16), with spinoffs in the
Big Book personal stories and the telling
of stories in A.A. meetings.
with Christ’s people
Endeavor’s emphasis on fellowship with like-minded
believers is straight from the Bible, and
much more emphasized than Oxford Group "team"
loyalty, with spinoffs in the early A.A.
description of itself as a Christian Fellowship,
and focus on continuous meetings, service,
commitment, group study, and eventually
to Christ’s Church
to Scripture, all Christian believers are
part of the body of Christ with churches
and denominations simply being a part of
that body. In early A.A., there was emphasis
on religious comradeship and affiliation
and not on membership in a particular church
or denomination. That was part of the basic
thinking of Christian Endeavor as well.
The Oxford Group was not a church, but a
fellowship. Christian Endeavor was church-oriented,
and the church was part of the body of Christ.
the Point? The Point is....
knowledge of history does not necessarily
mean allegiance to the ideas reported
by the history. It does usually mean
the acquisition of tools enabling
better understanding of the historical
events and ideas covered. Today’s
treatment, therapy, and literature
ideas are tending more and more to
look upon A.A. as an adjunct to something
else required for "recovery.".
A.A. and 12 Step fellowships are more
and more called "self help"
groups. But history shows a different
A.A. of yesteryear.
can move from a knowledge of the Bible,
Christian conversion, adherence to Christian
principles, complete reliance upon our
Creator, communion with the Creator
and His son through prayer and worship,
fellowship with like-minded believers,
witnessing, and bringing deliverance
to others. If you do, you can place
great emphasis on self, self-knowledge,
self-sufficiency, and self-help–the
very things A.A.’s Big Book still denounces.
Sam Shoemaker told AAs at their own
Long Beach convention that every "spiritual
awakening" (including the one referred
to in Step Twelve) involves four things:
1) Conversion. 2) Prayer. 3) Fellowship.
4) Witness. This was the link to history
that Sam Shoemaker emphasized. It incorporated
every part and parcel of Dr. Bob’s biblical
training and understanding. It did not
support the illusory values of "self-help"
groups–groups with programs Shoemaker
criticized in his very first published
© Dick B.