2021 is the centenary of the birth of an organisation that became known as the ‘Oxford Group’ (later renamed ‘Moral Re-Armament’ and now ‘Initiatives of Change’ ) a name I suspect most of us may be unfamiliar with. It was established by a Lutheran -Frank Buchman -after he had a religious experience whilst attending a Keswick Convention in Cumbria and talking of that experience, he said:
“I asked God to change me, and He told me to put things right (with people). It produced in me a vibrant feeling, as though a strong current of life had suddenly been poured into me and afterwards a dazed sense of a great spiritual shaking up”
The Oxford Group’s aim was a ‘Christian revolution for remaking the world’ and for that to happen people had to change and the only way to start that is with yourself. Its motto was ‘When man listens, God speaks, ; when man obeys, God acts and when people change, nations change’. The Group had huge influence throughout the world but perhaps its single biggest contribution was in how it facilitated one of the most impactful life- saving fellowships in history – that of ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ (AA).
In the 1930s an alcoholic, Bill Wilson, attended a series of Oxford Group meetings and when later in hospital he cried out “I’ll do anything! Anything at all! If there be a God, let Him show Himself!”. He then had the sensation of a bright light, a feeling of ecstasy and a new serenity. Bill Wilson never drank again in the remaining 37 years of his life. With a fellow alcoholic , Bill Smith, they were able with the Oxford Group to keep 100 alcoholics ‘dry’. Realising that alcoholism was not a failure of will power or morals, but actually an illness, they set up what become ‘AA’. It has been an incredible success treating millions of people in its near 90 year history and have saved countless lives that would have been loss to the awful addiction that is alcohol.
One of the main reasons for its success was the ’12 Step’ programme that Bill Wilson and Bill Smith introduced just after WWII which is their group’s ‘bible’. There are exactly 12 for a good reason- Bill Wilson in particular knew that God was crucial to the recovering addict and clearly saw the Christian analogy – there were 12 Disciples, it was at the age of 12 that Jesus was found talking to elders in the Temple, there are 12 legions of angels, the New Jerusalem will be built of 12 foundation stones and of course Jacob had 12 sons -the 12 tribes of Israel etc.
The 12 Steps, amongst other things, require the sufferer to admit :
- they are powerless over alcohol;
- that a power greater than themselves can restore them;
- to turn their lives over to the care of God (as they understand Him);
- admit to God, themselves and to one other person (their Sponsor) their faults and to atone for them;
- to allow God to remove their shortcomings;
- to seek through prayer to improve their relationship with God
- to practice these principles and carry the message to other alcoholics
The 12 Steps have been such a success in healing peoples’ lives that other healthcare programmes now utilise it including organisations such as ‘Gamblers Anonymous’, ‘Narcotics Anonymous’ & Al Anon’ (for families and friends of alcoholics).
This is what can happen when a group of Christians get together to ‘remake the world’- great things can happen!