To console himself after losing his Hartford position, Buchman took a European tour financed by his father. At a religious convention in Keswick, England he had a spiritual experience. “The ‘I’ of ego was crossed out by a horizontal stroke, producing the cross of Christ.” Buchman traveled to Oxford and later Cambridge, gathering young men around him to follow his interpretation of Christianity. He called them First Century Christian Fellowship.
Starting in 1928, the chaplain of Corpus Christi College at Oxford let Buchman host lunchtime meetings in his study, where Buchman groomed new recruits. He also taught his followers to host “house parties” that were really evangelical conversion meetings. The lunchtime congregation grew in size, moving first to a hotel ballroom and then the library of St. Mary’s. At their highest popularity, 1931-1935 the lunch meetings drew about 150 students each day. When a group of these men traveled to South Africa to share their gospel, the press dubbed them The Oxford Group.
Not everyone on campus was enthralled with Buchman or his followers, however. They took on public confession of sins as a primary practice of the Group, rather than private confession to God, a priest, or the injured party. This practice is seen today in Twelve Step meetings, for good reason. The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, was a member of the Oxford Group and largely plagiarized it when starting his own cult. A series on that group is upcoming.
A group of them go off by invitation to some country inn, beautiful city hotel, or country home. They boast that they are generally not after the down-and-outers but the up-and-outers, people of wealth, people of fashion and culture, and they gather together to spend several days in fellowship. Their meetings are largely of this character: they come together as groups and devote a great deal of time to testimony. These testimonies are generally in the nature of confessions. They act on the scripture that says, “Confess your faults one to another,” and stop there and do not notice the rest of the connection. They take it that the way to get help is to come together and confess their faults one to the other.
Sometimes as a matter of decency women meet together and confess their sins to each other, and men meet together and confess their sins to each other. When I was in Boston, I found a good deal of scandal had been occasioned by mixed companies holding these parties and confessing their sins, many of which were of such a character that Scripture says, “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (Eph. 5: 12). Yet they confessed these things openly, men before women and women before men. You can understand that the result was anything but helpful. Where do you find anything in the Word of God that suggests this kind of confession of sin? They say when they come together and honestly face their sins and tell about them, it gives them a certain spiritual strength that enables them to turn from their sins and so enter upon a new and a changed life.
The Oxford Group Movement; Is It Scriptural? by H. A. Ironside, Litt. D.; A Sermon Preached in Moody Memorial Church