One of the perks of writing for a Christian magazine, besides being able to work in your pajamas, is the occasional letter from a "brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus" (Revelation 1:9).
One such brother (I'll call him "D") took respectful exception to my column on what the church could learn from Alcoholics Anonymous ("Drastic in love," Nov. 4, 2006). He used in his analysis a finer scalpel than mine.
For your information, here is how the earliest AA pamphlet ever written (1944) instructed members on helping newcomers. I quote from "Step 3" of the famous 12 Steps:
We made a decision that we needed to come under new management since our own management got us nowhere. So we turned our wills and lives over to the care of our new manager-Jesus . . .
(At this point both of you get down on your knees. The sponsor says: "Jesus, this is ______(name). He realizes that his life is messed up and unmanageable. ______(name) is coming to You Lord in all humility to ask to be one of Your children-to work for You, to serve and dedicate his life to You and to turn his will and life over that he may be an instrument of Your love."
Newcomer responds: "Lord, I ask that You guide and direct me, and that I have decided to turn my will and life over to You, to serve You and dedicate my life to You. I ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ.")
D points out that over the years Step 3 quietly deleted reference to Jesus and substituted reliance on any "higher power" that floats your boat-AA becoming, in effect, a "counterfeit religion."
No wonder D, a former addict, is alarmed by my making nice with AA: He considers "that great Day of Judgment when stands before the throne an AA acquaintance of mine (and legions like him) who professed his 'god' to be the doorknob of the building where our meetings were held."
D testified to subtler snares, even in Christian programs modeled on AA. Fifteen years ago he found himself sober, rededicated to Christ and working as an addictions counselor-but, "All was not quite as it seemed . . . something within, some malignant, nefarious force, was patiently lying in wait in the dark shadows of that light, biding its time-that beast of my semi-dormant but very much alive addiction."
How so? D explains that by introducing himself in recovery meetings day after day with the formula "My name is D_____ and I'm an alcoholic," he was unwittingly "feeding the beast I thought I'd finally conquered." In contradiction to the scriptural truth that he was a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17), D was daily professing the wrong identity.
If "new creations," can we now drink safely? D says, "God forbid! For though we are no longer alcoholics . . . the latter state of those who return to their prior indulgences [makes them] more enslaved by those things from which they have by grace [been] set at liberty" (2 Peter 2).
D came to discover (in a disastrous way) that his life was still revolving around the bottle, though now as a convert rather than a drunk. He had merely made a lateral move. "We focused more of our energies into the dynamics of our newfound lifestyle than into relationship with Jesus."
"And therein lies the problem with AA-type sobriety. Unlike the Truth that shall make us free indeed, we are still controlled by our former problem to the extent that we are dependent on 12 Step meetings to keep us sober. . . . The 'once-a-drunk-always-a-drunk' philosophy keeps us bound to our past condition with a 12-link chain."
D agreed with my point that many churches seem dead while AA meetings seem dynamic, but said: "The Church need not go a-peekin' through AA meeting windows for its model of dynamism."
If such dangers lurk in recovery programs, should the church get involved in them? D writes: "Ministries like these . . . are much needed in the Church, but are only good as a temporary means to a particular end-bringing the addicted to the saving grace and permanent liberty found in Christ Jesus."
"Sadly," D observes, "there are scores of AA-involved Christians more interested in AA's 'Big Book' than the Good Book."
Point well taken. Thank you, brother.