Alcoholics Anonymous, the Church and the Hope of Transformation

IMG_0501I am a big fan of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Much of my transformation as a person has happened because of their simple program.  It has changed my life.  It can take the most broken, addicted person and help them find sobriety and wholeness.  The program is simply extraordinary.  I am an old sober alcoholic and I can tell you that when someone is in the bondage of alcoholism they are dangerous and destructive.  To “find” sobriety is a miracle.  Real sobriety is the total transformation of a person’s life–from arrogance, carnage and mess to humble, clean and able to live life rightly.  And here is the amazing thing: Alcoholics Anonymous is audacious enough to promise sobriety for nearly anyone who will work the program:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those too who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest. (Alcoholics Anonymous, 55).

The reason I find this so interesting, convicting and provoking is that in many churches we would never dare to make such a claim (come to our church and whatever your issue, work ‘our program’, and your life can be radically transformed into the life of Christ in 12 steps); even if we did, I am not sure that many churches have actual pathways for that to happen for anyone who wants it.  And if we do have the pathways, I am not sure many churches actually are making large parts of their membership into people that look like Jesus.

If so, I would love to hear about it.

What we would constitute to be the program of the church–Sunday morning worship, devotional time and some serving–seems to leave many people’s lives untouched (many sociological studies have shown that American Christians have the same ethical behaviors as non-Christians). They might be saved for heaven but transformation seems to be a pipe dream.  How can this be?  Isn’t transformation the promise of the gospel?

2 Corinthians 5:17–Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Ezekiel 36:26–And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Luke 6:43-45–“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Jeremiah 32:38-40–And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

1 Peter 1:16–Be holy as I am holy.

So this is my question…  How must a church structure itself, what practices must it implement so that its members actually look like Jesus?

One of the things that I am praying about, thinking about and dreaming about with the leadership team of Calvary (consistory) is how we could become a transformational community.  I dream of a church where people can come, and ‘work the program’, encountering the living Christ, and find themselves immersed into an eternal-kind-of-life.  A place where if we do our part, we find ourselves transformed.