AA: Christian or Occult
Christians continue to insist that Alcoholics
Anonymous is compatible with Christianity because of its
so-called Christian roots. That is because of its early
connection with the Oxford Group, which is now called
Moral Re-Armament (MRA). The founders of AA were involved
in the Oxford Group movement during the early days, but
there is no record of either Bill Wilson or Bob Smith
professing Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord or as
the only way to the Father. Neither is there a record of
them believing or teaching that the only way of salvation
is by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ
on the cross.
Frank Buchman, a Lutheran minister, began a movement
which he originally called "A First Century
Christian Fellowship." In 1928 the name of the
movement changed to the "Oxford Group." The
other leader of the movement, who was influential in the
development of AA, was Samuel Shoemaker, rector of an
Episcopal church. The thrust of the movement was
experience rather than clear biblical doctrine.
Buchman explained that "he never touched any
doctrine in any of his meetings, as he did not want to
upset or offend anyone."1
(Emphasis in original.) By keeping his doctrinal beliefs
to himself, Buchman was able to appeal to people of all
The following is Wilsons description of the
The Oxford Group was a nondenominational
evangelical movement, streamlined for the modern
world and then at the height of its very
considerable success. . . . They would deal in simple
common denominators of all religions which
would be potent enough to change the lives of men and
However, there is some evidence that the founders of
AA did have opportunity to hear the Gospel,3
but instead of receiving Christ as Lord and Savior and
experiencing freedom in Christ and victory over sin
through faith in Christ alone, Wilson and Smith took only
what they wanted from the Oxford Group. Here we will
examine three aspects of what AA borrowed: guidance,
surrender, and moral principles.
Members of the Oxford Group practiced what they called
guidance by praying and then quieting their minds in
order to hear from God. Then they would write down
whatever came to them.4 Examples
of such "guidance" are in the book God
Calling, edited by A. J. Russell of the Oxford Group.5 The book was written
anonymously by two women who thought they were hearing
from God, but who passively received messages in the same
way spiritists obtain guidance from demons.
Members of the Oxford Group primarily found their
guidance from within rather than from a creed or the
Bible. Buchman, for instance, was known to spend "an
hour or more in complete silence of soul and body while
he gets guidance for that day."6
J. C. Brown in his book The Oxford Group Movement says
He teaches his votaries to wait upon God with
paper and pencil in hand each morning in this relaxed
and inert condition, and to write down whatever
guidance they get. This, however, is just the very
condition required by Spiritist mediums to enable
them to receive impressions from evil spirits.
. . and it is a path which, by abandoning the
Scripture-instructed judgment (which God always
demands) for the purely occult and the psychic, has
again and again led over the precipice. The soul that
reduces itself to an automaton may at any moment be
set spinning by a Demon.7
Dr. Rowland V. Bingham, Editor of The Evangelical
We do not object to their taking a pad and pencil
to write down any thoughts of guidance which come to
them. But to take the thoughts especially generated
in a mental vacuum as Divine guidance would throw
open to all the suggestions of another who
knows how to come as an angel of light and whose
illumination would lead to disaster.8 (Emphasis his.)
In a very real sense their personal journals became
their personal scriptures. Wilson practiced this passive
form of guidance, which he originally learned through the
Oxford Group. He and Smith were also heavily involved in
contacting and conversing with so-called departed spirits
from 1935 on. This is necromancy, which the Bible
forbids. During the same period of time, Wilson was
practicing spiritism in a manner similar to channeling.9 Thus, Wilson combined the
Oxford Group practice of guidance with spiritism or
channeling, and this appears to be the process he used
when writing the Twelve Steps:
As he started to write, he asked for guidance. And
he relaxed. The words began tumbling out with
Wilson was accustomed to asking for guidance and then
stilling his mind to be open to the spiritual world,
which for him involved various so-called departed
spirits. Wilson does not identify any specific entity
related to the original writing of the Twelve Steps, but
he does give credit to the spirit of a departed bishop
when he was writing the manuscript for Twelve Steps
and Twelve Traditions, which constitutes
Wilsons commentary on how all of the 12 Steps and
12 Traditions are to be understood, interpreted, and
When he wrote the essays on each of the twelve steps,
he sent some to Ed Dowling, a Roman Catholic priest, to
evaluate. In his accompanying letter of July 17, 1952,
Wilson says, "But I have good help of that I
am certain. Both over here and over there."11 Then he explains that one
spirit from "over there" that helped him called
himself Boniface. Wilson says:
One turned up the other day calling himself
Boniface. Said he was a Benedictine missionary and
English. Had been a man of learning, knew missionary
work and a lot about structures. I think he said this
all the more modestly but that was the gist of it.
Id never heard of this gentleman but he checked
out pretty well in the Encyclopedia. If this one is
who he says he isand of course there is no
certain way of knowingwould this be licit
contact in your book?12
Dowling responds in his letter of July 24, 1952:
Boniface sounds like the Apostle of Germany. I
still feel, like Macbeth, that these folks tell us
truth in small matters in order to fool us in larger.
I suppose that is my lazy orthodoxy.13
One can see the stretch of years during which Wilson
received messages from disembodied spirits. The official
biography of Bill Wilson says, "One of Bills
persistent fascinations and involvements was with psychic
phenomena." It speaks of his "belief in
clairvoyance and other extrasensory manifestations"
and in his own psychic ability.14
This was not a mere past-time. It was a passion
directly related to AA.15
The manner in which Wilson would receive messages not of
his own making was definitely channeling.16
The records of these sessions, referred to as
"Spook Files," have been closed to public
Satan can appear as an angel of light and give
guidance that may sound right because it may be close to
the truth or contain elements of truth. A discerning
Christian would avoid any guidance that comes through
occult methods. Therefore, this aspect of the Oxford
Group, further contaminated by spiritism, cannot
constitute any "Christian root" condoning
Christians using and promoting AA.
Step Three of AA is "Made a decision to turn our
will and our lives over to the care of God as we
understood him." While many in the Oxford Group
placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,
there was much leeway given. Shoemaker, a leader of the
Oxford Group, says that "the true meaning of faith
is self-surrender to God." He further explains:
Surrender to whatever you know about Him, or
believe must be the truth about Him. Surrender to
Him, if necessary, in total ignorance of Him. Far
more important that you touch Him than that you
understand Him at first. Put yourself in His hands.
Whatever He is, as William James said, He is more
ideal than we are. Make the leap. Give yourself to
Aside from capitalizing the "H," which
Christians do to refer to the God of the Bible,
"Him" could refer to any god of ones own
making. The reference to the psychologist William James
emphasizes Shoemakers faith in the power experience
over the truth of God.19
Shoemaker believed that people would come to know God
by experiencing Him through surrender and through
following certain moral principles. He says, "The
new life begins by utter self-dedication to the will of
God. All of us can do that, and must."20
One can see how surrender to a god of ones own
creation found its way into the Twelve Steps of AA. When
a person is not clear about the Gospel, who Jesus is and
what He did to save sinners, he is not presenting a
Christian message. AA picked up the idea of surrender,
but without Christ and without the whole counsel of God.
Surrendering to anyone but the God of the Bible
constitutes idolatry. AA is another religion with its own
forms of piety, including surrender to a nebulous higher
power. This pious surrender does not constitute a
"Christian root" that can justify Christians
using and promoting AA.
Moral Principles and Their Source
In describing itself as an organization, this is what
MRA (formerly called the Oxford Group) says about itself:
MRA is a world wide network of women and men who
have started with themselves to bring the changes
they want to see around them.21
Heres how they start with themselves:
To start with yourself, you measure how you are
now living by absolute moral standards of honesty,
purity, unselfishness and love. (For Christians these
are in the Sermon on the Mount; they are also found
in other major religions.)22
(Parenthesis in original.)
People are told to make a list and then "give all
you know of yourself to all you understand of God, and
ask Gods help to put right those things beyond your
own power to change." So far there is no information
about which god one is to choose, since one can follow
any religion or no religion.
While some in MRA may read the Bible, as they did in
its early Oxford Group days, the primary source of
knowledge is the "inner voice." Here are the
instructions given in the MRA brochure:
Take time to listen every day to the inner voice,
write down your thoughts, and obey those that conform
to these standards.23
Even though a follower of MRA attempts to follow moral
standards from the Bible or the moral teachings of any
other religion, his primary light is that inner voice and
his primary goal is self-improvement. No cross is
necessary; no shed blood is required. Like AA, MRA is a
religion of works. Here is what MRA says about its
It has always been a Christian based, interfaith
work. It brings together people of all backgrounds
and cultures in a program of effective change using
principles that are accepted by every major faith.24
Aside from the words "Christian based," that
definition sounds like a description of AA. But how can
it be truly "Christian based" when it is
without the cross and without a Lord Jesus Christ, who
said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man
cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6)?
Rather than faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and Him
crucified, MRA is a religion of self-improvement and
One can indeed see the similarity between the Oxford
Group (MRA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Both allow
Christians to participate as long as they do not preach
Christ and Him crucified or dare to say that He is the
only way to the Father. Both appeal to an unidentified
god, both rely on mysticism, and both aim for
self-improvement. What AA got from the Oxford Group was
clearly not Christianity. There are no "Christian
roots." Because the central core doctrines of
Christianity are absent, AA constitutes a counterfeit
religion, not a neutral organization with "Christian
(For more information about AA, see 12 Steps to
Destruction by Martin and Deidre Bobgan.)
1. William C. Irvine. Heresies Exposed. New
York: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1921, p. 54.
2. Wilson quoted in Pass It On: The story of Bill
Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world.
New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.,
1984, pp. 127,128.
3. Samuel M. Shoemaker. Courage to Change: The
Christian Roots of the 12-Step Movement. Bill Pittman
and Dick B., eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H.
Revel/Baker Book House Company, 1994, pp. 11-24.
4. Ibid., p. 198.
5. A. J. Russell, ed. God Calling. New York: Jove
6. William C. Irvine. Heresies Exposed. New York:
Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1921, pp. 58,59.
7. J. C. Brown quoted by Irvine, ibid., p. 49.
8. Rowland V. Bingham quoted by Irvine, ibid., p.
9. Pass It On, op. cit., pp. 275-283.
10. Ibid., p. 198.
11. Robert Fitzgerald, S.J. The Soul of Sponsorship:
The Friendship of Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J. and Bill Wilson in
Letters. Center City, MN: Hazelden Pittman Archives
Press, 1995, p. 59.
12. Ibid., p. 59.
13. Ibid., p. 59.
14. Pass It On, op. cit., p. 275.
15. Ibid., p. 280.
16. Ibid., pp. 278,279.
17. Ernest Kurtz. Not God: A History of Alcoholics
Anonymous. Center City, MN: Hazelden Educational
Materials, 1979, p. 344.
18. Shoemaker, op. cit, p. 44.
19. See Bobgan & Bobgan. 12 Steps to Destruction:
Codependency/Recovery Heresies. Santa Barbara, CA:
EastGate Publishers, 1991, pp. 88,89.
20. Ibid., p. 46.
21. "What is MRA?" Moral-Re-Armament, 1885
University Ave. W. #10, St. Paul, MN 55104.