The Saturday Selection today is taken from the Presbyterian Layman website (www.layman.org) and the postings of Carmen Fowler LaBerge. The first of these was written at the end of October about a story that I somehow missed – it seems that there is a Canadian atheist who was suing Alcoholics Anonymous to have all references to God (“higher power”) taken out of the 12 step program. I enjoyed Carmen’s take on the story.
The second posting below is the first in a series of five postings which she calls “A Sola A Day to Drive the Heresies Away,” a reference to the five “sola” statements that came out of the Protestant Reformation. The first of these is Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone – and she explains briefly why this Sola statement is an important shield against allowing heresy (non-Christian beliefs) to creep into our understanding of the Faith. I’ll post her reflections on the other four Solas over the course of the next week.
Atheists want “Higher Power” out of AA
A Canadian atheist is suing Alcoholics Anonymous to have all references to God or any higher power from the 12-step program. Here’s the problem: AA is an inherently spiritual program of recovery, it always has been.
AA started when Bill Wilson, who had been in and out of medically- and psychologically-based recovery programs, had a transforming encounter with God. He never drank again and he eventually developed the 12 steps with another recovering alcoholic, Dr. Bill Smith. Both were a part of the evangelical Christian Oxford Group.
The Oxford Group was founded by missionary Dr. Frank Buchman who believed the root of all problems–including addiction–were fear and selfishness. Both he argued are inherently spiritual issues. Dr. Buchman believed that to learn to live with fear and selfishness, a person needed to surrender one’s life to God’s sovereign moment-by-moment presence.
So, to imagine that AA would now be able to expunge God–who is already depersonalized and non-specified in AA as “a Power greater than ourselves”–is to deny the experience of all those for whom surrender has paved the way to recovery.
The original 12 steps of AA include:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
This is where we get the cultural expression, “the first step is admitting you have a problem.” We all have problems we cannot solve on our own. We are, in fact, not self-sufficient although we may be wildly self-interested and self-absorbed.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This step describes the hope we have in God. Indeed, without God, nothing is possible and with God all things are possible–even miracles.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The idea of a “decision to turn” would be Biblically described as repentance, the act of turning from evil and its power over us, and turning to God. It is notable that God is necessarily worthy of the trust of our lives and cares for us.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
One wonders against what standard this moral inventory would be conducted where there is no acceptance of a moral lawgiver, but that is what the atheist in this suit seeks.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This is the Biblical recognition that confession is indeed good for the soul.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
This submission to cooperate with the active ongoing work of God is understood in discipleship as sanctification. It is the process of taking off the old self and putting on the new. It is the lifelong, moment-by-moment cooperation with the Holy Spirit whereby the believer is conformed more fully to the likeness and character of Christ. This is not a “once and done” exercise as Step 10 notes.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- 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.
Step 12 acknowledges an inherently evangelistic reality: once you’ve been saved–once you have experienced a genuinely transforming redemption–you cannot keep it to yourself.
In response to the atheist bringing the suit we are reminded that alternatives to AA exist, including explicitly Christian and purely secular approaches. Maybe this atheist should be referred to one of them or start his own endeavor to lead people out of addiction into the light of liberation. If he’s got something that works better than God, then let him make it known and let it be tested against the testimonies of those who find redemption, hope and fellowship in AA.
A Sola A Day to Drive the Heresies Away: Sola Scriptura
Yesterday was the 499th anniversary of the Reformation which makes today the first day of the 500th year. I thought it would be fun to focus on a Sola a day to drive the heresies away!
Salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the Glory of God alone. And all this we know by the Word of God, the Bible, alone.
The five Solas of the Protestant Reformation are biblically grounded theological principles that guided the Reformers as they sought to restore the Word of God to its rightful place in the life of the church. They were also concerned that Christ be restored to His rightful place as Savior alone and that people understand that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone. Each Sola corresponded to a teaching of the church at the time that contradicted the truth expressed by the Solas.
So, the Bible alone Sola addressed the creeping of church tradition onto a par with the Apostle’s teachings.
Salvation through Christ alone addressed the veneration of Mary and other saints and the use of indulgences as if the eternal disposition of a soul could be affected by anything other than the finished work of Christ upon the Cross.
By grace alone through faith alone was the strong rejection of a theology of works righteousness that had developed in Roman Catholicism over a 1,000 years.
So, today’s Sola is Scriptura.
This is really the basis of the Reformation and, I am ready to argue, is the foundation that has been eroded out from under the church in America over the past 100 plus years. The Reformation calling to the Church was always a calling to be reformed according to the Word of God. That’s a call we need as much today as the church in 1517.
The Bible alone as the ultimate authority was the “Formal Principle” of the Reformation. In 1521, Martin Luther was interrogated in a famous trial at the Diet of Worms. It was during that interrogation that he famously declared his conscience to be captive to the Word of God saying, “Unless I am overcome with testimonies from Scripture or with evident reasons — for I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils, since they have often erred and contradicted one another — I am overcome by the Scripture texts which I have adduced, and my conscience is bound by God’s Word.”
The Belgic Confession stated, “We believe that [the] holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein … Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures nor ought we to consider custom or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God … Therefore, we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule” (VII).
But these, in the end, are also the words of men. So, what does the Bible declare about itself?
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (II Tim. 3:14-17)
And the early church understood, received and preached it as such.
My husband, Jim, often observes that until the Word of God is restored to its rightful place in the life of the Church, the Church will not be able to have a rightful witness in the life of the culture. The same holds true in the lives of every believer. If the Word of God does not hold a sacred place of authority in your life — if your mind is not being transformed through the renewing that comes from God’s Word — then you are not adequately equipped to enter the world as a representative of Christ, nor an ambassador of His Kingdom.
If our lives are not literally saturated with the Scriptures, then we’re squeezed or hard pressed, what comes out is not His Word but our own. The world doesn’t need a piece of our minds, it needs the very peace of the mind of Christ.
So, today’s Sola is Sola Scriptura. In celebration of the 500th year of the Reformation, immerse yourself today in the Word of God that you might in turn speak God’s word to a world desperately in need of it.