A.A. History Brief: Oxford Group Principles

What the Oxford Group Principles Were

Many within and without the Oxford Group have endeavored to describe the principles of the Oxford Group. One Australian Oxford Group writer spoke of eight principles of the Group. Bill Wilson sometimes spoke of six “Steps” of the Oxford Group. But the idea that the Oxford Group had any “Steps”-let alone six-was dispelled by Oxford Group historian and activist T. Willard Hunter. And repudiation of this idea was finally publicized in A.A.’s own “Pass It On” (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984), 206 n.2.

Undaunted, Bill Wilson’s wife Lois spoke of some six “ideas.” Then one writer called on an anonymously-authored book by a non-Oxford Group writer and deduced that there were “four principles” and “four practices.” Finally, when I wrote my title, The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works (now in its third edition), I set forth some 28 ideas of the Oxford Group that had impacted on Alcoholics Anonymous. And this book and its view received the endorsement of a large number of experienced Oxford Group writers and optimists.

But history has also made possible a very explicit statement of the real Oxford Group “Principles,” as the Group people themselves characterized them. First, in the early 1920’s, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, “a chief lieutenant” of the Oxford Group in America, asked his long-time friend (who was also a long-time associate of Oxford Group Founder Dr. Frank Buchman) to write a statement of the ideas. They were seven in number.

Accordingly, Shoemaker’s friend, Sherwood Sunderland Day, penned a short pamphlet, titled The Principles of the Group (Oxford, University Press, n.d.). Years later, Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s assistant minister, Rev. W. Irving Harris, wrote that Bill Wilson was familiar with those principles when he (Bill) later discussed formulation of the Twelve Steps with Rev. Shoemaker. Harris then summarized Sherwood Day’s seven Oxford Group principles in slightly-different language.

Actually, Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne Ripley Smith, discussed those seven Sherry Day principles in the personal journal she kept from 1933-1939, and also shared with early AAs and their families.

Comments about the Background and Words of Rev. Sherwood Day

First, the Oxford Group probably was founded about 1919 when Dr. Frank Buchman (its founder), Buchman’s mentor Professor Henry Wright, and Howard A. Walter collaborated to write what was the first Oxford Group book-Soul Surgery. Shortly thereafter, Frank Buchman gathered around him an informal group of young supporters who would join him in traveling about the world. Sam Shoemaker was one of the men. Sherry Day was another. And, though this group of men had no formal name, they called themselves “A First Century Christian Fellowship.” It was in this period that Buchman’s ideas-gathered through the years before-had become known to his “Fellowship” members.

Sherwood Sunderland Day’s The Principles of the Group

Sherwood Day began his pamphlet with the statement that the principles of the Oxford Group were the principles of the Bible. The statement and the principles are discussed and annotated accurately in Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939: A.A.’s Principles of Success, 3rd ed. Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 129-32.

Day said: “It is never possible to find Life-peace with God-victory-power by merely trying to follow out principle.” He said: “That life comes to one as a possession through but one gateway-a personal experience of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.” He said further that the Oxford Group was a life-that life which is hid in Christ with God; and that the following principles are revelations or pictures of what is bound to take place in any life that is surrendered to the Will of God (Dick B., Anne Smith, 130).

Day then set forth the following seven biblical principles-the principles of the Oxford Group:

God-guidance. Day said “guidance” meant “communion with our Father, the Living God… listening to God… two-way prayer… thinking God’s thoughts after Him” (Dick B., Anne Smith, 130).

Fearless dealing with sin. Day said: “The great fact of history is Jesus Christ, the second is the presence of sin.” He said the Bible frankly faces the fact of sin and offers a cure. He said Jesus Christ faced men honestly and fearlessly, gave them courage to do the same with themselves, and then showed them the way out (Dick B., Anne Smith, 130).

Sharing: Day said: “A sharing Christian is a propagating Christian.” He said: “sharing,” as used by the Group, covered two distinct things: (1) confession, and (2) witness. Quoting James 5:16, Day said it was necessary to “confess your faults one to another.” He then said sharing, or witnessing, was necessary in helping others. It established confidence because the person confessed to know that the confessor had been through a like experience (Dick B., Anne Smith, 131).

The necessity for adequate, intelligent, expressional activity. Day urged: “a God-guided, released life with constant outgo into the lives of needy people” (Dick B., Anne Smith, 131).

Stewardship. Day pointed out “that He who bought us with a price owns us and all that He has entrusted to us. On such a basis, houses, lands, money, things, relationships, gifts, all that we are and have, made up a trust which we are to administer” (Dick B., Anne Smith, 131).

Team-work. Day said Jesus Christ believed in team work. He gathered a small group about him and set the example for all his followers in this respect Dick B., Anne Smith, 131).

Loyalty. Day said: The supreme loyalty in life should be to Jesus Christ, but . . . the person or group of persons embodying for us the highest challenge we know, the person or persons that have been used to reveal Jesus Christ to us are persons and groups which demand our loyalty” Dick B., Anne Smith, 131-32).

Garth Lean, Frank Buchman: a Life (London: Constable, 1985)
Sherwood Sunderland Day, The Principles of the Group (Oxford: University Press, n.d.)
Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living that Works, new
rev ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998)
Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., Pittsburgh ed. (Kihei,
HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999)
Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939: A.A.’s Principles of Success, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998)