by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
In addressing a church in compromise, the apostle Paul urged the Corinthians to “Learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another” (1 Cor 4:6). For Paul, utilizing the text of Scripture as the norm of Christian Faith and practice was critical to church unity. Paul taught that Scripture is theopneustos (i.e., God-breathed), and that it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Paul counted the Berean Jews as “more noble” than those in Thessalonica, because they did not unquestionably receive Paul’s teaching, but instead compared it to “the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11). Indeed, Scripture serves as the sufficient and authoritative means by which Christians may discern whether a movement or practice is appropriate.
In light of the above, is the movement known as Alcoholics Anonymous (here forth A.A.) consistent with what the Scriptures teach? Below I have cited four reasons why A.A. is not only incompatible with biblical teaching, but it is actually a competing religion.
A.A. Espouses a Relativistic Notion of God
According to Alcoholics Anonymous (i.e., the “Big Book”), “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express himself in our group conscience.”1 The pamphlet, Members of the Clergy ask about Alcoholics Anonymous, states,
Most members, before turning to A.A., had already admitted that they could not handle their drinking—alcohol had taken control of their lives. A.A. experience suggests that to get sober and stay sober, alcoholics need to accept and depend upon a spiritual entity, or force, that they perceive as greater than themselves. Some choose the A.A. group as their “Higher Power”; some look to God—as they understand Him; and others rely upon entirely different concepts.2
From the biblical perspective, there is only one God (Is 43:10), and any conception of God that is contrary to the God revealed in Scripture is an idol (Ps 96:5; cf. 1 Cor 10:14). Neither the nebulous notion of a “Higher Power,” the collective consciousness of an A.A. fellowship, a “force,” or a subjective conception of God will suffice. While the reasoning behind A.A.’s “ultimate authority” may be altruistic, it is nothing more than idolatry. Moreover, encouraging someone to “accept and depend upon a spiritual entity” that is not the Christian God is both sinful and dangerous.
A.A. Rejects the Authority of Scripture
The tenth of A. A.’s “Twelve Traditions” states,
No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues—particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups opposes no one.3
A.A.intends to portray an innocuous image while remaining neutral on controversial issues. However, such an attempt at neutrality is itself non-neutral. One cannot be lukewarm on an issue such as the Lordship of Christ. Jesus said to his disciples “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt 12:30). Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, “You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:15-16). An attempt at neutrality, or even silence, is itself an opinion on “controversial issues.” Therefore, because A.A.intentionally rejects the exclusivistic nature of the Bible’s truth claims (e.g., Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5), it rejects Christianity by implication.
A.A. Calls a Disease What the Bible Calls Sin
The Bible identifies drunkenness as sin. Paul wrote,
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Gal 5:19-21a)4
For A.A., alcoholism is a disease, and alcoholics are sick.5 However, biblically speaking, devoting oneself to an addiction to alcohol (or anything else) isn't merely a disease, it is sin. More precisely, it is the sin of idolatry. Because A.A. does not accurately identify the problem, it is unable to provide a sufficient solution. Hence, A.A. members introduce themselves as alcoholics into perpetuity. By distinction, the Christian gospel makes sinners free from bondage to sin6 and the Holy Spirit sanctifies his people. While Christians may still struggle with sin,7 they are no a slave to sin and are a new creation in Jesus Christ.8 Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
A.A. advocates a distinctly non-Christian spirituality
A.A. calls its groups “fellowships,” and throughout A.A. literature, discussions regarding a spiritual awakening or experience(s) occur.9 The twelfth of the “Twelve Steps” states, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”10 A.A. requests that clergy “Recognize the spiritual (though nondenominational) aspects of the A.A. program.”11 What is the “spiritual remedy”12 offered by A.A.? It is participating in the meetings which includes confession and reciting the Twelve Step creed, praying and relying upon a subjective conception of God or not, abiding by the instructions in the “Big Book,” and even evangelizing “prospects” (i.e., people who struggle with alcoholism but want to stop drinking).13 Indeed, A.A. is a religion in itself and is therefore completely contrary to biblical Christianity.
1 Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, New and Rev. Ed., (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc., 1955), 565.
2 Members of the Clergy ask about Alcoholics Anonymous, Rev. Ed., (New York: The A.A. Grapevine Inc., 1992), 13.
3 Alcoholics Anonymous, 567.
4 Cf. Luke 21:34; Rom 13:13; Eph 5:18; 1 Pet 4:3.
5 Alcoholics Anonymous, xi, 64, 115.
6 Rom 6:7; 6:18-22; 8:2.
7 See Rom 7:7-25; 1 John 2:1.
8 2 Cor 5:17.
9 Alcoholics Anonymous, 49, 114, 569.
10 Ibid., 60.
11 Members of the Clergy, 17.
12 Alcoholics Anonymous, xvi, 60, 133.
13 Ibid., 90.