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I started going to church and to A.A. meetings at roughly the same time-to church because I was a new Christian, to Alcoholics Anonymous with a family member. I liked the church services; I loved the A.A. meetings.
It was the parallels that rocked my new boat. A.A. meetings had everything the church had-but better. If the church had confession of sin, A.A. had it more convincingly. If the church believed in God, A.A. folks trusted Him desperately. If the church talked about fellowship, A.A. people planned their daily lives around "step meetings" circled in the newspaper. The church endorsed discipleship in the abstract, but A.A had a system of "sponsors" and "pigeons" where a new guy could grab the hem of an old-timer in sobriety and phone him day or night when the urge came like a raging locomotive.
Nowadays I walk Spider past a local meeting every morning at 7 a.m. Today I left the dog home and climbed steep steps to an upper room that few pedestrians know exist. It was packed. A man named Joe greeted me warmly, looking me in the eye. I hoped it wasn't obvious I don't have a drinking problem, and made my way to a vacant seat at the front, facing a large "Twelve Steps" poster on one side and "Twelve Traditions" poster on the other. They read like the Bible in street vernacular and without attribution.
This was a "speaker's meeting," so a special guest, one from their number, gave his testimony. "Hi I'm Ted, and I'm an alcoholic." "Hi, Ted" (30 voices in unison heartily reply). Ted sketched the outlines of a life shipwrecked by addiction: the eighth-grade graduation party, the life of cover-ups, the self-deception, the losses, the hitting bottom and breaking through of light, the last six months of sobriety under his belt by dint of a "higher power."
Ah, there's the rub. Fifty yards of perfectly good chain, and the crucial link so compromised that the lifeline breaks. For this is the land of "God as we understand Him," of unknown and unnamed "higher power" to make a Christian wish that you could summon Paul for an encore of Mars Hill. Individual testimonies and encouragements followed, each person warmly embraced by the group: "I'm Patty, and I'm an alcoholic." "Hi, Patty." But Patty's "higher power," the force that gets her through the night, is a 2-year-old girl who died last year. And Jim's "higher power" is the group itself. I have been told of a higher power that was a broom.
This is "a generation that knew not Moses," as it were. When A.A. founder Bill Wilson got sober through the Calvary Rescue Mission run by Rev. Sam Shoemaker's Episcopal church in New York, he called on Christ, not a footstool. The genesis of the "God as you understand Him" slogan was the insight that the man first stumbling into A.A. is in such an alcohol haze that he's doing well just to be vertical. "For a start, you need only surrender as much of yourself as you understood to as much of God as you understood" (Rev. Shoemaker). We Christians all appreciate that, how little God requires of a ground-floor faith. It is presumed, however, that the contours of Christ sharpen over time.
In the '30s and '40s, when Dr. Bob visited a newcomer in the hospital (where only a Bible was allowed in the room), the initiate would have to admit he was licked, whereupon Dr. Bob would ask two questions: (1) "Do you believe in God?" and (2) "Will you get on your knees and pray?" And then the man would give his life to Jesus Christ. These were the days when A.A.'s success was 75 percent to 93 percent as opposed to today's rate in the teens.
I don't want to talk trash about A.A. because it's keeping people sober. And it's keeping people sober because it's in the direction of reality, humanistic hijacking notwithstanding. But keeping people sober for what? To be better at living independently of Christ? To go to hell sober? Give a man a "Higher Power" and one chance in 10 he'll be sober for a lifetime. Give a man Jesus Christ and he'll be sober for a lifetime, and saved for an eternity.