The question came up recently about how Christians should think about the “12-Step” programs that treat alcoholism/addiction as a disease and that catechize alcoholics/addicts into deism. More than twenty years ago I began to try to address these issues in a paper. I first posted it to the web in the late 90s. Here it is. I might put a few things a little differently now but the basic issues are unchanged.
There are three things that an alcoholic/addict needs to know:
- 1) He is a sinner and alcoholism/addiction is a symptom of sin. He began abusing alcohol or other substances for a reason that ultimately grounded in sin. An alcoholic/addict knows (or will know) that he’s miserable but he doesn’t always want to call it sin. Pray for conviction, that the Spirit would drive him to his knees and teach him that his fundamental problem is not a “disease” but sin—rebellion against his Creator. Pray that the Spirit shows him his need of a Savior. Addicts are masterful manipulators, liars, thieves, deceivers, and self-deceivers. Only the Holy Spirit can break and break through all that to teach him that he cannot manipulate God.
2) Jesus obeyed, died, and was raised for sinners. God is gracious to sinners. Grace, God’s unmerited approval and favor, alone is powerful enough to awaken dead sinners and faith (knowledge, assent, and trust) alone is only instrument by which we come into communion with the Savior. The addict needs to accept that he can’t do anything to earn favor with God. He can’t bargain. He can only trust the Savior and turn from sin and his particular sins. Grace is not magic. The addict needs treatment. The physical/psychological effects of abuse are real. The addict needs to detox and he needs a controlled environment where he can begin to break the habit of substance abuse, to see that it’s possible to live without being/getting high/stoned (whatever). There aren’t many “Christian” substance abuse programs that don’t rely on AA or Pentecostal/Keswick Holiness theology. What we need is a substance abuse program run by Rod Rosenbladt but it doesn’t exist yet! The addict needs a true church around him to minister to him, a pastor who understands sin, the gospel, and grace. A true church will be of much more value than a 28-day treatment program.
3) When the (former; “such were some of you”) addict, now sober and in a sane and safe environment and in a sound, Reformed congregation full of sinners saved by grace who understand what the law is, what the gospel is (and how they are different), who understand who they are in Christ and who Jesus is and what he did, then that sinner needs to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around him (most addicts are Narcissists) and that he exists to glorify God (by loving God and neighbor) and to enjoy God forever. That process takes approximately one life time followed by death and glory.
This is only a start, of course, an orientation but one has to start somewhere and the law and the gospel are the place for sinners to start.