The Oxford Group or Moral Rearmament

A look at how this movement began.

LEO HOGENDORP, Teacher, Bible and Evangelism, Home Study Institute

This movement began with Frank N. D. Buchman in 1921 at Oxford in England. In order to understand the movement it is necessary for us to know something about the life of this man.

Frank Buchman was born in Pennsyl­vania in 1878. He graduated from Miihlen­berg College in 1899 and holds honorary degrees of divinity from the same college, and of law at Oglethorpe University. He was ordained as a minister in 1902.

His first charge was a church in Philadel­phia, which under his direction later grew up into the Church of the Good Shepherd. Out of it grew a hospice for young people of the underprivileged class, which developed into a community of hospices spread throughout the city. After five years trouble arose. Because of shortage of cash the busi­ness committee requested him to reduce the ration. This he refused to do and he re­signed immediately, harboring ill feelings against those six directors.

He left his home country and went travel­ing through Europe. Soon he found his way to England, where a convention was in prog­ress. Here something happened that turned the whole tide of his life.

He entered a tiny village church one aft­ernoon in which a small congregation had come together, and where an ordinary woman happened to be the speaker. Some seventeen persons were present, including Frank. The simple speech of the woman made such a profound impression upon him that he decided to change his life. There­upon he wrote to the six committee-men in America against whom he had nursed ill will, telling them of his experience and asking their forgiveness for the ill feeling he harbored against them. No reply was ever received from these six men, but from that moment a change came into his life which was to affect all men with whom he was to come in contact.

In 1909 Dr. Buchman was asked by Dr. John Mott to go to Pennsylvania State Uni­versity in order to reconcile differences that had arisen between the faculty and the stu­dents and had led to a student strike. On the first night of his arrival there were nineteen liquor parties. The situation seemed hope­less. Buchman began to work on certain people who were in key positions in the institution and was instrumental in convert­ing them. Soon the whole college became interested in religion. By 1915, when he left, 1,200 men out of a total of 1,600 were attending Bible classes.

From 1915 to 1919 he was engaged in Christian work for extensive periods in India, Korea, Japan, China, and the Philip­pines. When in Kuling, China, he was invited one day to dinner at the house of a Chinese lawyer-diplomat, at which occasion an Anglican bishop and an archdeacon were also present. During the course of the din­ner Buchman and the bishop began to share their religious convictions, and soon the diplomat, who professed to be a Christian, did the same. This made a profound im­pression on his Confucian mother and soon afterward she too became a Christian.

Next came the first of a long series of house parties held in the country home of this lawyer-diplomat-governor, who made a splendid host. Some of the eighty persons attending had come from long distances.

These gatherings lasted for two weeks, de­veloping into a form that served as a model for the later assemblies of the Oxford Group or Moral Re-Armament.

At the request of the bishop, Buchman was asked to go to Cambridge University where the bishop's son was studying. He did so in 1920 and worked for the undergrad­uates who were eager for him to start his work also in Oxford. In 1921 he entered Oxford, where he had a very good follow­ing. He at once began an intensive effort to enlist and train the leadership. He was con­vinced that this was needed to extend the work throughout the world. It was through these men and women at Oxford whose lives had been changed that the global work of Moral Re-Armament developed. Henceforth Buchman was to devote his whole time to his ideal of changing the world by changing people.

In 1928 a team of seven men, six of them from Oxford, decided to carry their new­found spiritual experience to the principal centers of South Africa. Since they had not chosen a name for themselves and had no organization whatsoever, they were labeled the "Oxford Group Movement" by the South African Press. By this name they be­came known throughout the world.

Success attended the teams everywhere they went. In -1929 Buchman himself went to South Africa with a team of about twenty-five workers on a three-month cam­paign. They were well received by the high­est officials there. A still larger group went in 1932, and in 1934 they went to Canada. The Prime Minister of Canada, the Rt. Hon. R. B. Bennett, said they were the only ones who could save the world.

In October, 1933, the Archbishop of Canterbury conducted a special service in which he commissioned one hundred full-time workers of the Oxford Group for the Christian work they were proposing to un­dertake. A similar service was conducted by the bishop of London in St. Paul's Cathe­dral for a team of five hundred of the Group. One hundred clergy of the Church of England formed part of the procession.

The Scandinavian countries were visited in 1934 and 1935. Bishop Berggrav, later Primate of Norway, called it "the greatest spiritual movement since the Reformation." Denmark was visited successfully with an international team of three hundred.

It was during the year 1938 when Europe was undergoing the "war of nerves" that a new idea dawned upon the mind of Buch­man, who had incessantly been working to preserve the world from plunging into another war. When the world was feverishly preparing for war by rearming to the ut­most, Buchman launched his Moral and Spiritual Re-Armament program. The idea was quickly caught up by the newspapers, statesmen were using the slogan, and the term was soon upon everybody's lips.

Just before the war broke out in Europe, Buchman went back to America. He trav­eled extensively in the United States with a team of workers and made a good impres­sion everywhere he went. At Mackinac Island in Lake Michigan a training center was established in 1942. This soon became the center of the work in America. To this center many leaders of church and state, of labor and industry, have come to learn the principles taught by the group.

In 1946 the world training center for MRA was opened in Europe at Caux-sur­Montreux in Switzerland. In seven years 55,000 people from 166 countries attended the World Assemblies at Caux. They in­cluded prime ministers, cabinet ministers, members of parliaments, heads of industries and industrial organizations, and the elected heads of sixty million workers, church leaders, armed forces, press, radio, and education. Buchman's popularity grew tremendously, and he was decorated with the highest orders by the governments of France, Germany, Greece, and Iran.

Critics have pointed out that there is a marked absence of doctrinal content in Buchmanism. It is also true that one ob­serves in their literature an almost complete lack of reference to the atonement in the accepted orthodox sense of that term.

(To be continued)

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LEO HOGENDORP, Teacher, Bible and Evangelism, Home Study Institute

November 1962

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