The Oxford Group is formed from Buchman’s post-conversion efforts and develops its own unique evangelical style. This style is characterized by an emphasis on personal change and the practice of Guidance.
A typical Oxford Group experience begins with a House Party. House Parties are informal gatherings to which the Groupers invite potential converts. During the course of an evening, members of the Group practice what they call Sharing. They tell the story of their life before the Oxford Group, what happened to them when they encountered the Oxford Group, and what their life is like now because of the Group. In these stories, the Groupers confess their moral shortcomings and explain how Jesus has helped them overcome those shortcomings.
During the course of a House Party, potential coverts who become interested in having an Oxford Group experience request an Interview. Interviews are a one-on-one session with an experienced member of the Group, who asks the potential convert to examine their lives against the standard of the Four Absolutes.
The Four Absolutes are: Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love. These are the absolute standards that the Groupers attribute to Christ. When one examines oneself against the Four Absolutes, one is looking for ways in which one’s thinking or behavior violates those standards. In an Interview, the Four Absolutes allow the Oxford Grouper to discover those places in potential converts’lives that are most troubling to them. After a full confession of shortcomings is made, the potential convert is asked to surrender their will and their lives to God.
New converts exit an Interview feeling Changed. They are prepared to live life on a new basis. They also are usually given an assignment by the Grouper who conducted their Interview. If the convert had mentioned harming someone, they are sent out to make Restitution. In an act of Restitution, new converts Share their experience with the persons they have wronged, and then expresses a desire to do whatever is necessary to correct that wrong. They probably also invite them to a House Party.
Once Restitution has been made, the new Groupers are encouraged to Share at House Parties, to conduct Interviews, and to practice seeking Guidance. Guidance is a form of prayer practiced by the Oxford Group. Generally, the Grouper seeking Guidance takes time in the morning before the day begins to sit quietly and listen for God to speak. Groupers kept notebooks to write down the thoughts that came to them. Some speak about Guidance coming in the form of thought that have a “special light,”others see Guidance as trusting God to guide their conscience and commonsense. In addition to morning sessions, Groupers stay alert during the day, believing that Guidance can come at any time.
Many Oxford Groupers report unusual experiences with Guidance. The general trend in these experiences is that the Grouper gets an insight to act in a way that seems nonsensical at first. Once the initial insight is followed, however, a chain of unpredictable events takes place that results in a minor miracle. Usually either the Guided Grouper makes contact with a potential convert, or a Guided act of charity meets a need of which the Grouper had no prior knowledge.
|I was suddenly told by something inside to send money to two children in New Zealand . I obeyed, and the needed money arrived six weeks later, just before the death of their widowed mother, whose sudden illness I could not have foreseen.
For Sinners Only
|I got hold of [Frank Buchman’s] address and went off to see him. He was out…I sat down at the table in his room and began writing him a letter. All of a sudden he bounced into the room, breathlessly. ‘I knew there was someone needing me,’ he said. It turned out that he was on his way to see somebody else when he felt himself stopped dead in the street and ordered to go to his room. The other appointment was important, so he had run all the way back.
Oxford Groupers understand the need to double check the thoughts they receive in Guidance. As a general rule, Groupers test their insights against the Bible, the Four Absolutes, and in cases that are still unclear, they consult other members of the Group. Frequently, too, Groupers will receive Guidance about the behavior of another member of the Group. Approaching other members to offer them Guidance is called “checking.”
The core of Oxford Group practice is saving souls. All other practices are simply in place to facilitate the Group’s efforts at evangelism. Sharing at House Parties, and on mission trips all over the world, form the core of Oxford Group spirituality. Once a potential convert is saved, he or she is encouraged to get to work saving others as quickly as possible. The test of a true Christian’s life, Groupers say, is whether or not that Christian is saving souls.
The Oxford Group grows and changes over time. Some Groupers are focused on foreign missions, others on hosting a roving series of House Parties. Still other Groupers form stable community-based networks that meet regularly in the same place. Stable Groups form in New York City and also in Akron , Ohio . Bill Wilson will eventually have a powerful spiritual experience that will free him of the desire to drink after his encounter with the Oxford Group in New York . Dr. Robert Smith will join the Oxford Group in Akron , but will continue to drink until he works with Bill. Alcoholics Anonymous will develop as a subdivision of the Oxford Group, and the Group’s practices will form the basis for the Twelve Steps.
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