DID YOU KNOW?
This week’s Did You Know comes from a prominent professor with long-time membership in Alcoholics Anonymous: The knowledge that human beings are necessarily imperfect and that absolute and legalistic thinking does not work is not a new idea. In the mid 1500’s the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, took advantage of the fluid situation created by having a little boy on the throne (Henry’s son Edward was ten years old when his father died), to bring a fairly conservative form of the Protestant Reformation to England. The archbishop made it clear that we humans are necessarily imperfect, and will never be able to save ourselves by trying to achieve any kind of absolutist standards. Furthermore, he said that if our so-called faith is just a matter of believing a detailed list of doctrines and dogmas that kind of religiosity never saved anyone. Cranmer pointed out the letter of James that the demons in hell believed all the doctrines and dogmas but are nevertheless consigned to hell. Why? Because the faith that saves is trust in a loving God who accepts us in spite of our imperfections. Satan knew all the doctrines and dogmas, but did not trust God. He attempted to take over the universe and make himself god instead, because he did not think that God adequately realized how much more intelligent he was than all the other angels, and because he was extremely unhappy about the way God refused to run things exactly the way he wanted.
The eighteenth–century evangelical leader John Wesley was an Anglican priest who also believed Archbishop Cranmer’s concept concerning human imperfection was exactly right. Although the Methodist movement that Wesley founded eventually separated from the Church of England after the American Revolution they kept the concept of human imperfection.
After the early A.A. movement broke with the Oxford Group, the majority of A.A.’s began using the Southern Methodist publication called The Upper Room for their morning meditations, so the place where A.A. tied into the Protest Reformation was the conservative version of human imperfection originally worked out by Archbishop Cranmer. The Upper Room was a spiritual work which attempted to do justice both to the best parts of the understanding the role of faith and grace in bringing us salvation and to the best parts of the Catholic understanding of how we continued our spiritual development past that point. The fact that the concept of human imperfection and grace could speak effectively to Catholics as well as Protestants was vitally important, given the hefty percentage of A.A.’s that came from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds.
Also, Father Sam Shoemaker, the first important spiritual guide whom Bill Wilson went to, was an Anglican priest, which is another important reason why the A.A. formulation places so much emphasis in the warning contained in the letter of James that “faith without works is dead,” and that saving faith and grace is most definitely Not intellectual belief (no matter how emotionally held) in a detailed list of religious doctrines and dogmas. It is not clear why Father Sam Shoemaker did not realize the destructiveness caused by trying to live by the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes. Nevertheless, both Anglicans and Southern Methodists insisted that absolutist systems destroyed the principle of grace, and that any attempt to produce soul change or psychic change by preaching an absolutist moral code would plunge people into depression, resentment, and hypocrisy. This was full-blown legalism and works of righteousness of the most dangerous sort.
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