The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is obliquely based upon the Christian understanding and the concept of God. This understanding integrated into a recovery program for millions of afflicted alcoholics, has resulted in their miraculous transformation. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob (Robert Holbrook Smith) and Bill (William Griffith Wilson) were introduced to Christianity through the teachings and philosophy of the Oxford Movement. This interdenominational fellowship, now called Moral Rearmament, was founded by Frank Buchman and sought to bring about conversion through the Christian insights of confession, surrender, guidance and sharing. This led to the formulation of the four absolutes – absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, absolute honesty and absolute love. None of these absolutes were achievable through humanistic self-effort – only by the acknowledgment of one’s complete dependency upon God Who has revealed Himself fully in Jesus Christ.
Bereft of power to combat their personal alcoholism, both Bill and Dr. Bob, under God, brought into existence an unparalleled movement of healing for thousands shipwrecked by alcohol abuse. Beginning in 1935, Bob and Bill, together with Sister Ignatia, guided some five thousand alcoholics to physical and spiritual recovery within fifteen years. Since then, this movement has spread to much of the Western world.
Some Christian people believe that Alcoholics Anonymous is not “Christian” enough, primarily because the name of Jesus Christ is not mentioned specifically. Similarly, some A.A. members believe there is no place for a specific Christian emphasis in this organization, espousing that A.A. is not interested in religion as such, but only in how spirituality can encourage sobriety.
This book will illustrate how Christianity undergirds the Twelve Steps in the Alcoholics Anonymous Program and that the God referred to seven times in these Twelve Steps is the same God Who has revealed Himself uniquely in the Man Jesus Christ. The book is also designed to help alcoholics become as open as possible to spiritual truth wherever it leads them. Step Eleven in the program encourages people, through prayer and meditation, to improve their conscious contact with God. Sincere attempts to move in this direction will undoubtedly succeed. “If you seek for me with all your heart you will surely find me, for I am always ready to be found of those who seek me earnestly” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Although I am not an alcoholic, I have enjoyed an intimate association with Alcoholics Anonymous in New Westminster, British Columbia, where I lived and ministered for twenty-four years. In 1960 I met a man in my congregation who found faith in Jesus Christ as well as sobriety through the program of A.A. He took me to my first A.A. meeting where I heard the Twelve Steps read and the testimonies of recovering alcoholics. Since then, I have initiated discussion groups for A.A. members interested in exploring the Christian Faith. In 1981, assisted by two A.A. members, I began a chapter of A.A. called “Good Samaritan”. It was a special-interest group emphasizing the Third Step in A.A. – “Willing to turn my will and life over to the care of God, as I understand Him.” Here Christian A.A. members named Christ as their Higher Power, the One through Whom God became real to them. Many A.A. members also wanted my assistance with the Fifth Step – “Admitted to God, myself, and some other person the exact nature of my wrongs.” In this role, I directed many alcoholics to consider the reality of Christ, whose forgiveness, love and grace could bring deeper dimension to spiritual life. Many of these people were eventually baptized and became practising Christians within the fellowship of the Church. I also minsitered in the Maple Cottage Detoxification Center, sponsored by the government of British Columbia. Here I serve as a volunteer counselor and chaplain, seeking to implement the A.A. program for those recognizing that their lives had become unmanageable because of alcohol.
I am completely committed to two facts: 1. God has revealed Himself personally and powerfully in Jesus Christ, whose life is chronicled in the New Testament. 2. God has raised up Alcoholics Anonymous as a ministry of love to help free anyone afflicted by the inordinate misuse of alcohol or any other artificial dependency that robs men and women of inner freedom.
The Bible describes Christ’s ministry in people’s lives as “salvation”. This word literally means, “to make spacious, to liberate, to emancipate, to set free”. Certainly millions of alcoholics have testified that life was “hell” and their deliverance form alcoholic addiction was miraculous. God is ever seeking to free us. As Christ Himself said about his ministry, “If the Son makes you free, you will really be free”(John 8:36).
I ask alcoholics to read this book with an open mind toward the foundational beliefs of Christianity. I would like Christian people to become cognizant of God’s saving power evidenced through Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics need not regard the Christian Faith as suspect and Christians need not deny the powerful influence of A.A. Jesus once said, “He that is not for me is against me.” I have personally found many alcoholics receptive to the Christian message if presented with a non-judgmental, loving attitude. Many alcoholics have been “turned off” by negative experiences within the church of their childhood. May this book build bridges between both alcoholics and Christians as together we explore the riches of Jesus Christ, Who came into the world not to condemn sinners, but to set them free.
God has to change us before He uses us.
As I look back over the past thirty years of my involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous, I stand in awe at how God works his transformation of our mind-sets and then opens a door for ministry.
Brought up in a strict teetotaling family, I was taught to recite poems against the evils of alcohol, through the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Recitation Contests. I proudly boasted winning bronze, silver and gold medals before I was fourteen. With my self-righteous attitude toward alcoholics, I thought nothing, as a child, of throwing stones at a poor drunk weaving his way home from a bar on a Saturday night.
You can imagine my chagrin when I was asked by Rev. Robert Barr, Minister of Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto, to spend the summer of 1950 in Evangel Hall, a Presbyterian ministry on Queen Street, the worst juvenile-delinquency area at that time. I will always remember my anger as I walked along Queen Street toward the Mission, muttering to myself, “Who does Robert Barr think he is, asking a nice boy like me to go and live in a joint like this?” I did not in the least welcome the experience.
But as I began to live in this four-story Mission, taking part in the various activities, preaching at the evening services, and meeting the men and women who came to the Mission for help, I began to soften. In reflection I realized that the year before I went to Knox College, I had a life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit, releasing my evangelistic gifts. My last year in university involved me in a student witness I had never had before. But I needed to be involved in social action also, an aspect of my Christian life yet undeveloped.
During those three years that I lived and served in Evangel Hall, God worked his miracle in me. The Holy Spirit began to release God’s love in me, and I could identify with the alcoholic sufferer in a totally new way. Somehow God gave me the ability to “get under the skin” of the alcoholic, and deeply feel what they grappled with in their affliction.
In the Fall of 1960, I accepted a call to First Presbyterian Church, New Westminster, B.C. Within the first week, I met a man, Glen C. who had been introduced to faith in Christ through a friend, but had also begun to experience recovery from alcoholism through A.A. He invited me to my first meeting. I saw immediately the potential for sharing God’s love in Jesus Christ. And so I began to attend meetings in New Westminster regularly. When it was discovered that I was a minister, I was asked to speak and share my life. I would usually take one of the Twelve Steps of Recovery and speak briefly about it. I would make some low-key statements about Christ, without going into any theological explanation. But I always prayed that God would put me in touch with someone at the meeting who sought something more than sobriety. Invariably, He did.
Over the next twenty-five years, I led a number of Discussion Group meetings, centering around the Third Step: “I was willing to turn my will and my life over to God, as I understand Him.” Through these group meetings, many alcoholic men and women came into a living faith. Not all of them became part of the Church, because in so many instances, their experience of the Church had been negative in their youth, and they found it hard to believe they would be accepted. But a good number did, and before I left New Westminster in 1984 to minister in Ottawa, I could look out over the congregation on a given Sunday morning and count one third of the people as recovering alcoholics. I formed an A.A. Group called Good Samaritan, in which Christian members were encouraged to identify Christ as their Higher Power.
The door to ministry among alcoholics was opened once the Lord changed my attitudes and gave me a love and concern for them only He could have generated. The book I have written, Two Tracks, One Goal, shares my own insights on how the Christian Faith has inspired the Twelve Steps of Recovery in A.A., and how we as Christians can use the Twelve-Step Program to help them discover the God Who has always loved them, and can change them by his great power.
Many members of A.A. do not understand the dynamics of the Christian Faith, and many Christians do not understand the power at work in an A.A. meeting. Today we need people willing to identify with the alcoholic – where he or she lives and there, in a low-key way, share how the principles of A.A. flow out of the Christian Faith, and its understanding of God’s heart of redeeming, transforming love.
The two concepts, or tracks, may seem only parallel, but if you stand at the back of a train as it moves out of a station, you will observe how the two tracks seem to converge on the horizon and become one. My conviction is that the Christian Faith flows out of God, and A.A. flows out of Christian Faith. Both need to be held together – and can be – if we engage the potential of both imagination and creativity.