A First Century Christian Fellowship

Major Sources for Observing Early A.A.’s Apostolic Principles, Practices, and Resemblance to First Century Christianity at Work

By Dick B.
© 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved

A Common Observation about “Old-School” Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous History: A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob called the first A.A. group (known as “Akron Number One”)—founded on July 4, 1935—“a Christian fellowship.” [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980), 118]

Of the five Rockefeller people—including John D. Rockefeller, Jr—who met the early AAs, listened to Dr. William Silkworth, and read the report that Frank Amos had given to them in February 1938, all said something to the effect, “Why this is First Century Christianity at work. What can we do to help?” And they did help.

But long before that, Christian evangelists were telling New Englanders and many in other parts of the world how the Apostles not only found salvation, but taught and lived Christianity—healing drunks, addicts, and derelicts along the way.

And then there was the Oxford Group and that American sparkplug of its early period, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. Bill Wilson called Shoemaker a “cofounder” of A.A. Bill discussed the proposed Big Book and Step contents with Shoemaker. He even asked Sam to write the 12 Steps, but Sam humbly declined. Yet the very language of the 12 Steps paralleled Sam’s teachings—teaching founded on basic ideas in the Bible that Dr. Bob said were the foundations for the Steps.

Shoemaker and many other early Oxford Group people called their life-changing group and groups “A First Century Christian Fellowship” and defined what that phrase meant to them and their groups.

“A First Century Christian Fellowship”

At the times Bill W. (1934-1937) and Dr. Bob (1933 until at least 1939) were involved with the Oxford Group, it was actively using the name “A First Century Christian Fellowship.” And here are some of the ways people described the personal work with others of members of that important A.A. predecessor, the Oxford Group.

In his popular book, Life Changers, Harold Begbie (who had written Twice Born Men and much more about General William Booth and the Salvation Army) described the Group this way:

Above all, the Group was a Fellowship—a first-Century Christian Fellowship controlled by the Holy Spirit. [Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 31]

We discuss and cite precise sources for the following statements:

. . . Frank Buchman’s formation of what he and his friends called “A First Century Christian Fellowship.” Buchman had said, “It is an attempt to get back to the beliefs and methods of the Apostles.” He said, “We not only accept their beliefs, but also decided to practice their methods” [Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 286]

In Life Changers, author Begbie also wrote:

Since those words were written he has paid a visit to the United States in company with F. B, . . .


In his last letter written from America he tells me that he is entering with others into “A First Century Christian Fellowship,” explaining that they wish to get back to the type of Christianity which was maintained by the apostles—“We not only accept their beliefs, but are also decided to practice their methods.”

He announces in detail the elemental beliefs of a First Century Christianity. He believes in:

The possibility of immediate and continued fellowship with the Holy Spirit—guidance.
The proclamation of a redemptive gospel—personal, social, and national salvation.
The possession of fullness of life—rebirth, and an ever-increasing power and wisdom.
The propagation of their life by individuals to individuals—personal religion.

Out of these beliefs proceeds the method of propagation:

Love for the sinner.
Hatred of the sin.
Fearless dealing with sin.
The presentation of Christ as the cure for sin.
The sharing and giving of self, with and for others.

“We are more concerned,” he writes, “with testifying to real experiences, explicable only on the hypothesis that God’s power has brought them to pass, through Christ, than with teaching an abstract ethical doctrine.”

Rev. Samuel Shoemaker spoke of the Group as “A First Century Christian Fellowship” as follows:

The Spirit can communicate His truth to a spiritual fellowship of believers in ways He cannot communicate to individuals: it is another phase of Christ’s meaning when He said that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. He is wherever a believer is; but He is present in heightened reality in the fellowship. [Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous, 293]

In his first significant book, Realizing Religion, Shoemaker had the following to say about the days “when the Church had martyrs in it.” Shoemaker wrote at page 67:

I believe that originally this was the spiritual impulse, entirely apart from considerations of ecclesiastical order or the founding of a brotherhood by Jesus, which welded Christians together in the days when the Church had martyrs in it. The value of united prayer and worship, of inspiring and instructing a group bent on one object, the constant impact of the words and the interpretation of Jesus, has often been dwelt upon. . .

The Acts of the Apostles

In Acts chapters 1 to 6, there are a number of descriptions of what the First Century Christians did, what they had received, and how they fellowshipped together. Here we will just quote two segments.

The first from Acts 2:38-43, 46-47:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. . . .

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

The second segment from Acts 4:29-32:

And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.
By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.
And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul. . . . And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.

The Keys to Applying First Century Christianity in Recovery Programs Today

Our latest title is:

How to Conduct “Old School” 12-Step Recovery Meetings Using Conference-Approved Literature: A Dick B. Guide for Christian Leaders and Workers in the Recovery Arena.

In a small number of pages, this new book—very succinctly and very specifically—covers the ground above and then shows how the successful “Christian fellowship” practices of the First Century and of the early A.A. group in Akron can be applied today and fully supported by Conference-approved literature published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. And how those who join together in Christian fellowship can attain healing and a whole life in the same way the Apostles did and that the old school AAs did.

Gloria Deo

Author's Bio: 

Writer, Historian, Retired attorney, Bible student, CDAAC, active recovered AA member with over 26 years of continuous sobriety. Published 43 titles and over 800 articles on Alcoholics Anonymous History and the Christian Recovery Movement