Sinners Anonymous?

Today I was reading in the journal Conversations. In an article by Chris Webb he talks about meeting a woman who is a drug addict, a prostitute, and a mother. Chris wonders “where should Michelle go to church?” and explores the difficulty of finding a church where people can go to find Jesus- not once they’ve found Him.

He  says:
“Michelle needed a twelve-step church.
A twelve-step group like alcoholics Anonymous molds itself around wrecked people who are still struggling and falling, not around those who are already getting life straight. No one would ever sit you down at an A.A. meeting to explain how you are letting the side down: ‘you know, friend, we have our reputation in the community to think about. With all this boozing, you’re a bad witness. Why not get yourself cleaned up a little, then come back and join us?’ …AA exists solely for the desperate drunks, not for the respectable tipplers. After all, as Jesus once observed, it’s not he healthy who need a physician, but the sick.
What, though is the church, if not ‘Sinners Anonymous’? Surely we are called to be a community of recovering sinners–a home for desperate people (like Michelle, like me), who are gripped by but fighting with our destructive addiction to sin. Michelle needed a church where it was possible to say, ‘I am Michelle, and I am a sinner.’ Where it was possible to be open and truthful about weakness and vice, about brokenness and failings. Where virtue was a goal, not an entry requirement. Michell badly needed that church. And so do I.”

Wow.

I am touched by Webb’s word, because I need that church too, and because I want to be that church to others.

What would you do if someone who was homeless sat next to you in church in ratty clothes and smelling like the sewer?

What if a woman with tattoos and needle marks up and down her arms wanted to attend your Bible study?

How about if someone who was gay asks if he can come to church with you next week?

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect before we come before him, and we shouldn’t expect others or ourselves to be perfect before coming to church.

I am Krista, and I am a sinner. I am “gripped by but fighting with my destructive addiction to sin”. I need a place to be honest about this, and I need to be a person who others can be honest to about this as well.

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18 thoughts on “Sinners Anonymous?

  1. ditto. sometimes, the disability/disinterest/disdain- well, let’s put it this way, a great many things that make me not want to deal w/ other people’s sins actually become barrier for me to be in community. ‘but, i’ve got SO very much on my plate already…’- plus, all those boundary issues that i’ve grown accustomed to. sometimes the walls aren’t high enough to cover our sins (each others’) sins up- only high enough to keep us apart. and that’s the saddest thing ever.

  2. I used to be active in a medieval re-creation group where everyone was so warmly accepted no matter who they were. All you did was show up and then you felt the “You’re one of us now” attitude. There was no resume-first mentality about it. Then I wondered why can’t my church do that, too?

    Sincere acceptance is so important to opening up to hearing what people have to say about recovery, and about Jesus.

  3. I Googled ‘sinners anonymous’ to see what was out there because I found that after growing up in church I was lost in the church. When I asked pastor how he counseled people that were struggling with sin he said, ‘I don’t know.’ So then I knew it was all a show. So my mind opened up to who else might know how to help and I discovered AA and recognized the gospel foundation to the steps (which modern churches seldom teach or understand), So I went through the steps and found tremendous help from God!

    Then I understood for the first time in my life that I was an unbeliever! God said, ‘Confess your sins one to another’ but I didn’t believe him! As an Evangelical I believed we confessed our sins to God instead. That got me looking to see how many other times I didn’t believe God and I saw that it didn’t matter much what his commands were I ignored them somehow. If he said, ‘Be perfect’ I believed that was, practically speaking, impossible. If he said, ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss’ I said, ‘That’s not my culture’ if he said, ‘Give thanks in every situation’ I said, ‘I’ll give thanks when I’m thankful, it’s ridiculous to give thanks after I hit my thumb with a hammer for the sixth time while siding a house.’ If he said, ‘Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.’ I said, ‘Yeah, uh-huh, And wondered how I was supposed to control my thoughts because they seem to have a mind of their own… so I thought whatever I happened to be thinking, good or bad. I didn’t know how to take them captive until I discovered being deeply honest about myself. The end result was, I could sing, and dress up on Sunday so I was a ‘Christian’ but really I wasn’t a Christian at all. By going to church all I did was add hypocrisy onto all my other sins! Going through the 12 Steps was very healthy for me.

    12 years later I realize I need a fellowship that isn’t sin specific. Maybe like a ‘sinners anonymous’, yet still loves the root of Christ and isn’t ashamed to give him the credit he is due. A place where honest sinners are welcome and sinners who tend to hide their sins (like those prone to hypocrisy do) are lead into being honest or they are excluded because the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop sinning. Self-righteousness is every bit as big a sin as any other, and every bit as addictive, but so few ‘ministers’ know how to lead people into truly obeying God’s commands with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. I think a 12 Step Church is a very good idea.

    1. As with most things, I think it starts with me. I can’t expect others to be open and honest if I’m not willing to be myself. So, first step, be transparent.

      Second step, encourage others to join you. Be curious about other peoples’ stories and don’t judge or walk away if you feel overwhelmed or at a loss for what to say.

      Simply say, “thank you for trusting me with that,” and be God’s grace.

  4. Allahdjinn, to start a group you must start with yourself. If you have never read Alcoholics Anonymous, then pick up their book and begin going through the 12 steps. Only instead of reading the book to deal with one of your sins like they do, read it so as to deal with and overcome all your sins, like Jesus taught us.

    Knowing that the 12 steps were pulled out of Christian disciplines, I only use those 12 steps as a general guide to teach me how to put into practice those Christian disciplines which I never learned in a typical church. Putting those 12 steps into practice opened my mind and heart to read and understand the Bible as it was written as opposed to how profits interpret the prophets (as is so commonly done).

    So, I learned to confess all my sins, not just some of them, and the experiences learned from that are very necessary to producing the character required to start and lead a group in your area. Also, the promises of God which kick into effect as a result of working through those steps (like: if you confess your sins God is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness) changes your heart and you need to experience that before you decide to start a group of your own.

    Another promise of God that kicks into effect that you need to experience is ‘if you remove the plank from your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove a speck from your brothers eye.’ By going through the 12 steps in light of God’s word and making them your habit (that is one of the steps), your ability to see sin accurately will change substantially and you need to experience that change otherwise you won’t become a saint but rather you will continue in self-righteousness and fail to know how to lead others out of the sin of self-righteousness. When we fail to remove our own pride, our ‘converts’ are actually hypocrites because a thorn bush doesn’t produce figs or grapes. So these are steps you need to work through in order to lay a proper foundation in your spirit to start a ‘fellowship of the saints’ aka, sinners anonymous, in your area.

    I would like to share with you more about these things but first things first. Step one for you is get a copy of the 12 steps and start working through them. This is our first group meeting. Be sure to write back and keep in touch. God Bless.

  5. I did a Google search for “sinners anonymous” and your website popped up. I wrote an article by the same name in refutation of Rick Warren’s Celebrate Recovery program which is also part of Chapter 8 of my book exposing Rick Warren’s teachings entitled: Who’s Driving the Purpose Driven Church? and on our website:

    SINNERS ANONYMOUS
    http://www.perfectpeaceplan.com/post/celebrate-recovery-exposed/

    Kindest regards in Christ,

    James Sundquist
    Director
    Rock Salt Publishing
    http://www.perfectpeaceplan.com

    1. Thanks for your response James.

      I read your article, and have a few responses.

      First, the idea of being powerless over our addictions is very Biblical- it’s at the core of the gospel message- we are powerless if we do not depend on God. That does not mean that we are still not held responsible- to use your example, a pedophile is responsible for the hurt he/she has done and is responsible to stop those behaviors (hence the reason for 12 step programs, to help people stop). If we have power to overcome our sins, why do we need Christ? In Romans 5:6 it says “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” The idea is that with Christ, if we learn to lean on Christ, we can overcome our struggles and addictions. It’s not that we cannot do it or we are not responsible, but that we need Christ.

      Second, the purpose of any AA or anonymous group is not that members remain hidden and only “commiserate” as you put it with people who share their struggle. Any 12 step program encourages its members to be in conversations and make amends with others- people they’ve hurt and people they want to connect with and have healthy relationships with in the future. The purpose of the ‘anonymous’ is that many would not have the courage to begin that journey if it didn’t start in an anonymous group where they felt safe- and I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that most addicts (and really all people) have been hurt by those who love them, and have learned that people are not safe. And those who work the steps often gain the courage to share their sins and struggles publically, giving others hope.

  6. Hi James,
    I understand you’re feelings because that’s how I thought the first time I saw an AA book. A friend gave it to me after listening to me talk about Jesus for a while. He said, ‘This book really helped me, I had a problem with drinking and it helped me quit.’ I, a bold evangelical ‘believer’, thought ‘I don’t need that, I have Jesus.’ I put the AA book on the shelf being polite to him and forgot about it for 10 years.
    However, after following ‘Christ’ for 15 years as best as I could and being a pathetic failure I finally realized no matter how hard I try to trust and believe in ‘Jesus’, something wasn’t working and no one seemed to know how to help. So I remembered that AA book and though I’ve never been ‘drunk’ in my life, I took it down and read it. And in it I found the best description of ‘confess your sins one to another so that you may be healed’ that I’d ever heard of in my life.
    I also discovered that those 12 Steps were pulled directly from Christian teachings and modified only in terms not substance to help hopeless case drunks who have a ‘disease’ of the soul we know of as ‘sin’. Only guess what? As a ‘believer’ I never had a clue about these disciplines so it was no wonder my ‘beliefs’ didn’t work the way they were supposed to. To my shock I found more AA’s were wiser about walking in the Spirit than the more self-righteously inclined like me.
    The term ‘anonymous’ isn’t about staying secret, it’s about prudence. Like John the Baptist working out in the wilderness instead of in the temple like his dad. They lived in a culture that kills honest people, as you see happened to John and Jesus and everyone else that was particularly honest and so they used discretion. So it is with ‘anonymous’, it is first of all, a protection for people to become honest without being linched. Then second of all, it is a tutor which enforces humility instead of allowing peoples egos, to run wild. Many ministers who have disgracefully fallen (or will be falling in the future) have a lack of such a tutor to thank for their public humiliation.They didn’t learn to be completely honest about their struggle with sin, and then in their ego they ran out and became public examples of why ‘Christianity’ doesn’t work. Why? They didn’t learn the disciple of being truthful or ultimately humble. The true Spirit of ‘anonymous’ is ‘It’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.’ This power that is at work in me isn’t about how good and talented and strong I am, nor is it about how smart we are in seminary. Rather it is about Jesus enabling us to overcome and he alone is our glory. But typical ‘church’ leadership has lost all sense of that and run their fellowships on personality and talent and arguments of human wisdom.
    The true witness isn’t about how fine our arguments sound, but rather what power they have. For the kingdom of heaven isn’t one of talk but of power so that our faith would not rest on man’s wisdom but God’s power. So the proof of our reasoning is in the results, not the misunderstanding and misquotations that are plainly evident in much criticism. Go truly lead someone out of all their sins and then you’ll understand much better what you are talking about.

    1. Thank you Travis. I really appreciate your perspective and willingness to share your personal experience with James. I apologize for my INCREDIBLY late response. I don’t know how I missed your comment when it originally published. Thanks for visiting my site.

  7. All glory belongs to God 🙂
    I like that it took so long, I’m working through writing a book and it’s kind of a treat to come back to this conversation and reread it. Learning to deeply and completely bare my soul in a book has been absolutely the most difficult thing God has ever called me to do. Yet unless we all start becoming completely honest about our sin one with another, how can we be completely healed of it and gloriously robed and ready for The Lord’s return?
    I really appreciated your post Krista, and the Lord’s timing to be reminded of it again.

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