Thursday, August 18, 2011

Choosing Life: Working The Program

Fr. Dale Matson

Twelve Step programs are used to treat both addictive and dysfunctional behaviors and began with Alcoholics Anonymous. All programs are based on the AA treatment model, which most individuals see as primarily a spiritual treatment. In fact, God is mentioned six times in the twelve steps.

The individual begins by repenting and submits to God’s will. It is a kind of conversion experience with an initial and ongoing component like religious conversion. Bernard Tyrrell S.J. thought of this as conversion from addiction. He also wrote about moral conversion and conversion from neurosis Christotherapy II (1982, Paulist Press).

Following this conversion, the individual works his own ongoing program of removing defects of character assisted by God. It reminds me somewhat of St. Paul’s statement, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12b-13).

Step five, “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”. Here I am reminded of the passage from James. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (5:16) In steps six and seven, I’m uncertain of the subtle differences intended involving God removing defects of character and shortcomings but It reminds me of 1st John. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1:9).

Step eight is setting the will to make amends and step nine is making amends. This reminds me of a passage from Matthew. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (5:23-24). In step ten there is ongoing personal inventory and admission of wrongdoing. “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults”. (Psalm 19:12). In step eleven “Praying for God’s will for us and the power to carry that out”. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declared the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

In step twelve, the individual is to carry the message to those who still suffer. “And He said to them, "Go into the entire world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15).

This is the basic outline of a Twelve Step Program of recovery and my Scriptural references that indicate that this is consistent with a “Christian Program” also. I was involved in an Adult Children Of Alcoholics (ACOA) program for about a year as a Christian member of a Church. I did not continue in the group for a few reasons. First, I found there to be more community (Koinonia) in the church. At ACOA, it seemed like parallel play.  There was also a sense that you would always be broken and that coming to meetings and working the program only kept things in remission. I also found that most of the group members did not attend church; that this was their church. Put another way, it seemed like a generic spirituality. Was it effective? For those who abuse substances, I believe the treatment has as much efficacy as any treatment.

What is missing? Jesus Christ is missing and He is the person Christians are becoming. He is more than our sobriety and sanity. He is wholeness and holiness. He is also our brothers and sisters to whom we lovingly respond. It is in His body the church that we worship, serve, and fellowship and mature.

In the years I have had membership in churches that also hosted AA chapters, I do not know of many AA members who became members of our church. I am sure some were Christians but I believe the focus of the treatment can also become a kind of idolatry itself. If sobriety is all you aspire to then AA will work for you. Are there Christians that aren’t working their program? Yes. However, it is not enough for me to be dry and sober.  If one wants more, then they need to move on from a generic god to a Trinitarian God.  In my next post I will discuss the first Christian treatment program, the liturgy.  

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