Alcoholics Anonymous is an international mutual aid fellowship of men and women coming together with the stated purpose of staying sober and helping other alcoholics achieve sobriety. It was founded in 1935 by two drunks, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith of Akron, Ohio. Though it originally grew out of a Christian organization called the Oxford Group, a non-denominational movement modeled after first century Christianity, Bill and Dr. Bob soon wisely saw the value of keeping A.A. from being identified as a religious group. Though founded on biblical principles, it continues today as a mutual aid fellowship of admitted alcoholics who are agreed that they can no longer manage their lives without the help of others and a higher power, however they might want to identify that being. That “higher power” has been the key to it’s success in that no one has to commit themselves to any particular God, religion or denomination. No one has to receive Christ or become a Christian, though I’m sure many have. That kind of language is not found in any of the movement’s literature.
Early on, one pastor criticized the group as a “secret, ashamed sub-group” engaged in “divergent works.” That pretty much sums up how I thought of A.A. growing up in the church. It was for those guys over there — those people who didn’t belong in the mainstream flow of the church because they had a drinking problem. We were, therefore, better than them. We were, therefore, Pharisees without realizing it, and our understanding of the gospel was greatly limited by this separatist thinking. The gospel is supposed to be for those who have bottomed out on their sin and need of a savior, but as long as there was A.A. around, one could still hold onto a shred of dignity that at least they weren’t that bad. And to the degree that anyone thinks they are not “that bad,” is the degree to which they cut themselves out of the full benefits of grace.
It is amazing to think that A.A. has survived for 83 years without professional leadership or any particular personality to rally itself around. It remains what it has always been, a group of drunks trying to get and stay sober. Most people would not recognize the names of its founders and that’s as it should be.
This quiet prejudice against A.A. in many Christian circles is what has contributed to its success and staying power. It’s not a movement, or a personality cult, or a self-help group, or a means of climbing the social ladder. It is what it is — an international mutual aid fellowship of men and women (estimated to be about 2 million strong internationally) coming together with the stated purpose of staying sober and helping other alcoholics achieve sobriety.
What are the parallels to Christianity? Just about everything. But that’s what we intend to spend the next 12 weeks finding out.