Thursday, January 28
What Alcoholics Can Teach the Church
Alcoholics Anonymous meets needs in a way that the local church does not--or at least did not for my friend. I asked him to name the one quality missing in the local church that AA had somehow provided. He stared at his coffee for a long time and then he said softly this one word: dependency.
"None of us can make it on our own--isn't that why Jesus came?" he explained. "Yet most church people give off a self-satisfied air of piety or superiority. I don't sense them leaning on God or each other. Their lives appear to be in order. An alcoholic who goes to church feels inferior and incomplete." [I might add that the phobic reactions of some alcoholics seems to issue from their self-judgment which they in turn pass on unjustified to those around them. His point, however, is well made, for many so-called Christians are well-dressed legalists. Let's pray against such a proud attitude.]
Yancey friend continues, "It's a funny thing, what I hate most about myself, my alcoholism, was the one thing God used to bring me back to him. Because of it, I know I can't survive without God. I have to depend on him to make it through each and every day. Maybe that's the redeeming value of alcoholism. Maybe God is calling us alcoholics to teach the saints what it means to be dependent on him and on his community on earth."
Yancey then points out several necessary character traits: "humility, total honesty, and radical dependence--on God and on a community of compassionate friends." As I thought about it, these qualities seemed exactly what Jesus had in mind when he founded his church.
Alcoholics Anonymous came out of a discovery by Bill Wilson. On his own, Bill had stayed sober for six months until he made a trip out of town, where a business deal fell through. Depressed, wandering a hotel lobby, he heard familiar sounds of laughter and of ice tinkling in glasses. He headed toward the bar, thinking "I need a drink."
Suddenly a brand new thought came ot him: "No, I don't need a drink--I need another alcoholic!" Walking instead toward the lobby telephones, he began the sequence of calls that put him in touch with Dr. Bob Smith, who would become AA's cofounder.
Church is a place where I can say, unashamedly, "I don't need to sin. I need another sinner." (Church, Why Bother? 51-52).