Chapter 3: The Good News: What God Can Do about Alcoholism
You (the “Party of the First Part”) Need Pioneer Understanding of God
I myself will never adopt an understanding that the power to overcome “disease’ or sin or “sickness” or whatever alcoholism is, can be received from, or operated with, “something” or “somebody” or a “power greater than myself’ or a “higher power” or a “group” or a light bulb, chair, bulldozer, goddess, doorknob, radiator or any of the other “absurd names for God” (as Rev. Sam Shoemaker, our “cofounder” described them). I wouldn’t rely on a “Something.” I wouldn’t trust a “Somebody.” I wouldn’t seek help from “a higher power.” [Some in AA. say they will only settle for the “Highest Power” — Almighty God]. I wouldn’t pray to a group. And I certainly wouldn’t expect guidance from a lightbulb, healing by a doorknob, deliverance in the seat of a chair, or forgiveness through the accomplishments of a radiator.
AA.’s Big Book has always said, and still says, there is One with all power and that the One is God! The founders used all kinds of descriptions and titles for God — Father, Creator, Maker, Almighty God — but they all came from the Good Book. That understanding of God produced a 75% to 93% early AA. success rate in our earliest groups. And it produced a new life and new happiness for me.
You Need the Pioneers’ Belief That God Can Heal You
The founders believed the Bible. It says that God can cure, heal, and deliver. It says that Jesus Christ made that power available to all who believe [John 14:12: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” Acts 1:5, 8: “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. . . . But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”]. Some in the AA. publishing game of today have taken to promoting the idea that those words — cure, healing, and deliverance — were misleading and, by their interpretations, were mistaken. Are they saying the Bible is misleading and mistaken? I don’t think so. There was a safer and less controversial course for them to take. The safest way for those who promulgate the “there-must-have-been-a-mistake-in-the-language used” propaganda was simply to eliminate the language from AA. usage. No “cure.” No “ex-alcoholics.” Just create a diversion, and abrogate mention of the Bible. Add some new names for God, even though they describe some incomprehensible and non-existent idol. Delete all reference to Jesus Christ. Stop writing about early AA.’s spiritual roots and history. And just call our AA. fellowship a “self-help” mutual hand-holding society with love and good works as its basic tenets. Safe, but pretty sorry!
The problem in letting the ubiquitous revisionists get away with such desecrations of our pioneer program is that they are dealing with alcoholism. Alcoholism is devastating. It is destructive. It is dangerous. It is corrupting. It is not a problem to be left in the hands of some virtually self-appointed, unaccountable publishing committee in New York or teams of writers who may not have seen or helped a “wet drunk” in years. Nor is alcoholism a problem to be left to group therapy. Liver disease doesn’t yield either to group therapy or newly published names. The numbness in my legs was not receptive to “self-help.” My seizures did not abate with hugs. My fear and terror did not disappear by sitting in a chair at an AA. meeting. In fact, many in AA. still say that their arch-enemy (Self-centeredness) is so difficult to overcome that it has to be “crucified” just as Jesus was crucified. Again, the Good Book says quite clearly that God can cure, heal, and deliver. In early AA., the Pioneers said over and over that God had done, or was doing, for them what they could not do for themselves. Then, in his own first-published effort, Bill Wilson made a new, unwarranted, and bald-faced insertion. He added to his AA. of 1939 the statement that alcoholism cannot be cured. But that was not the picture the founders first painted.
The “No Cure” Crowd. Yet it became a watchword for professionals — no cure! Vernon E. Johnson plastered “hopelessness” and “treatment” all over the professional scene:
You are a patient in this two-year treatment program because you are sick with a chronic addiction — that is, a harmful dependency on a chemical substance which interferes with your daily life. Because your condition is chronic, you cannot be cured. But you can be treated successfully [Vernon E. Johnson. I’ll Quit Tomorrow: A Practical guide to the alcoholism treatment which has worked for seven out of ten exposed to the Johnson Institute approach [New York: Harper and Row, 1973], p. 113; bold face added).
Is Alcoholism a Disease? Yes, because one’s addiction to chemicals is uncontrollable and unpredicted. Alcoholism is an illness that one does not go out to look for or buy. It just happens. One frustrating thing is that alcoholism cannot be cured (Johnson, I’ll Quit Tomorrow, p. 159; bold face added).
Vernon Johnson founded the Johnson Institute in 1966 after he had received his Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Divinity from Seabury Western Theological Seminary in Illinois. What happened to God? Now, let’s see what happened to “no cure” and “treatment.”
The “Relapse Is OK” Crowd. The fact is that, with the word “relapse” added to make things sound OK, the “no cure — treatment — relapse” disorder became a sump-hole for millions upon millions of dollars in public and private expenditures. And it still is. Consider the following statement in a recent U.S. government pamphlet:
Addiction is a progressive, chronic, primary, relapsing disorder. It generally involves compulsion, loss of control, and continued use of alcohol and other drugs despite adverse consequences. Addiction, treatment, recovery, and relapse are all dynamic biopsychosocial processes (Mim J. Landry. Overview of Addiction Treatment Effectiveness [Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. Revised February, 1997], p. iii).
Many people mistakenly believe that relapse is a sign of treatment failure. Early models of addiction viewed successful treatment and relapse as “all-or-nothing.” Today, both treatment and relapse are understood to be dynamic processes. In particular, relapse is viewed as a transitional process from abstinence to active addiction. The relapse process consists of a series of events and changes in thinking, attitude, behavior — that may or may not be followed by the use of substances. Even if use resumes, it may not reach the same level of intensity as before treatment — at least for a while (Landry, Overview of Addiction Treatment Effectiveness, p. 62).
This prompts me to wonder if author Landry believes that the alcoholic’s plight is much like “being a little pregnant” as he approaches this “dynamic process.” Take God out of the picture, and you may wish to consider the very “lack of defense” and “lack of power” that prompted AAs to say that it meant, “of course,” that they were going to talk about God!
We’ve already quoted just a few of the Bible verses that point to God’s ability and willingness to heal, cure, deliver, and assure that we overcome. Pioneer AAs had ready access to these verses, not only in their own Bibles, but also in The Runner ‘s Bible they used so frequently.
AA. Pioneers Talked about “Cure”
AA.’s own Conference Approved literature quotes clear remarks by Bill Wilson, by Dr. Bob Smith, and by Bill Dotson — AA.’s number 1,2, and 3 — on their being cured of alcoholism. They are explicit about their cure and the source of the cure — God:
“Says Bill W.: Nineteen years ago last summer, Dr. Bob saw him (Bill D.) for the first time. Two days before this, Dr. Bob had said to me, ‘If you and I are going to stay sober, we had better get busy.’ Straightaway, Bob called Akron’s City Hospital and asked for the nurse on the receiving ward. He [Dr. Bob] explained that he [Dr. Bob] and a man from New York [Bill Wilson] had a cure for alcoholism” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., p. 188; bold face added; DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, pp. 81-82).
Bill D. (The lawyer Bill Dotson) said: “It was in the next two or three days after I had first met Doc and Bill, that I finally came to a decision to turn my will over to God and to go along with the program the best I could. . . . I did come to the conclusion that I was willing to put everything I had into it, with God’s power, and that I wanted to do just that. As soon as I had done that I did feel a great release. I knew that I had a helper that I could rely upon, who wouldn’t fail me. If I could stick to Him and listen, I would make it” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., pp. 188-90; bold face added).
Bill Wilson said of a later visit in the next day or so to Bill Dotson at the hospital “Before our visit was over, Bill [Dotson] turned to his wife and said, ‘Go fetch my clothes, dear. We re going to get up and get out of here.’ Bill D. walked out of that hospital a free man never to drink again. AA.’s Number One Group dates from that very day” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., p. 189; bold face added).
Then, after Dotson had been home from the hospital for about two weeks, Dotson reported (in his personal Big Book story) the following conversation among Dotson, Dotson’s wife Henrietta, and Bill Wilson: “Bill [Wilson] was over to my house talking to my wife and me. We were eating lunch, and I was listening and trying to find out why they [Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson] had this release that they seemed to have. Bill [Wilson] looked across at my wife, and said to her, ‘Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.’ I [Bill Dotson] thought, ‘I think I have the answer.’ Bill [Wilson] was very, very grateful that he had been released from this terrible thing and he had given God the credit for having done it, and he’s so grateful about it he wants to tell other people about it. That sentence, ‘The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep telling people about it,’ has been a sort of golden text for the AA. program and for me [Bill Dotson]” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., p. 191; see also DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 83; and Dick B., The Golden Text of AA.: God, the Pioneers, and Real Spirituality [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1999], pp.9,51-6l; bold face added).
Wilson again chose to speak of a cure, when he interviewed T. Henry and Clarace Williams in 1954. Wilson said:
God knows we’ve been simple enough and gluttonous enough to get this way, but once we got this way [became alcoholics], it was a form of lunacy which only God Almighty could cure (Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics, 2d ed. [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1998], p. 13; bold face added).
While we cannot specifically attribute the cover draft to Bill Wilson himself, one of the early proposed covers for the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous touted AA. as a “cure” for alcoholism.
Pioneer Clarence H. Snyder reiterated the early AA. beliefs of his colleagues (Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill Dotson) as to their cure by the “Great Physician.” See the repeated use of the “cure” term in Mitchell K. How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland Ohio (NY: AA Big Book Study Group, 1997), pp. 6, 71, 138, 157, 235; and the “Great Physician” reference to Jesus Christ was in common use among other Pioneer AAs, by their New York mentor Dr. Silkworth, and their Oxford Group friends. See, for example, H. A. Walter, Soul Surgery (Oxford: Printed at the University Press, 1932), p. 4.
William D. Silkworth, M.D., and the Charles B. Towns Hospital may or may not have disagreed as to whether alcoholism could be cured. Charles B. Towns was the owner of Towns Hospital, where Bill Wilson had his “spiritual experience” while under the care of Towns’ medical director, Dr. William Silkworth. Towns had claimed to have a “cure” for alcoholism. Dr. Silkworth, on the other hand, said, “clinically, we have no cure for chronic alcoholism. . . . The disease was merely arrested.” Nonetheless, it was Silkworth who was responsible for the following positions: (1.) Urging clergy and men of religion to renew or revive the practice of prayer, particularly meditation; (2) Distinguishing between the use of alcohol which does not produce a chronic alcoholic and that in which there is “the allergic nature of true alcoholism”; (3) Stressing that “elimination of the phenomenon of craving that follows the treatment does not constitute a cure [but that] the final cure rests with themselves [alcoholics in the second phase of alcoholism]”; (4) Advocating “moral psychology” in achieving entire recovery from alcoholism; (5) Describing the success of the AA. spiritual approach as requiring the patient’s willingness to turn his life and his problems over to the care and direction of his Creator; (6) Applauding the AA. plan to make a “so-called transfer to one greater than themselves, to God”; (7) Urging Bill Wilson to hang on to his spiritual experience; and (8) Having told a parishioner of the famous Dr. Norman Vincent Peale that the parishioner/alcoholic named Chuck could be healed by the Great Physician Jesus Christ. (The preceding remarks by Dr. Silkworth can be found in the series of articles sent to the present author via email titled “William Duncan Silkworth, M.D., Some Writings by & about ‘The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks”’ from Mary H. on April 11, 2002. See also Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ.)
The Founders Were Not Alone in Their Faith That God Cures Alcoholism
God Is for the Alcoholic
In God Is for the Alcoholic, Jerry Dunn writes: Alcoholism is a sickness of the soul — a sin sickness, and it must be considered such (p. 21). When the alcoholic is at the bottom and has come to the place where he doesn’t want to take another drink, then we can help him to break the cycle. The cycle can be broken. We can thank God for that. He has provided a way of escape . . . the way we will be able to help the alcoholic to break the cycle and overcome addiction. It is possible for him to be completely free from the power of alcohol addiction (p. 55). I have dealt with men who were chronic alcoholics for many years. Yet I have never seen a man who has honestly and sincerely confessed his sin and turned his life completely to God who hasn’t been delivered from the power of beverage alcohol. Yes, God was for me. He is for you. God is for the alcoholic (p. 162).
Dr. Bob’s Special Emphasis on Christian Healing
There were two very powerful Christian healing titles among the many on that subject which were owned, studied, and circulated among AA. pioneers by Dr. Bob. (See Dick B., Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed. [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1998].) I’ve seen, studied, and listed all these titles, and the following two are extremely useful in telling us what we can do, just as the early AAs did.
Heal the Sick. The first — Heal the Sick–is a 277-page, fine print, book by an Episcopal layman and student who spent twenty-four years in “Christian Healing” which culminated in five years’ world-wide Healing Mission. The title is Heal the Sick by James Moore Hickson (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1924). The book details literally thousands of healings all over the world that were attested by clergy and others. Hickson rejects the idea that the “age of miracles is now past,” that “There is no need for Christian Healing in these days of enlightenment and advance in medical and surgical science,” and that “doctors and surgeons,” as “healing servants of God constitute (the only way) by which God’s healing comes to us” (p. 3). Emphatically he says, “To understand the full significance of Christian Healing we must think spiritually, we must approach the subject on the spiritual plane, and we must remember that it is healing through the Person and Power of Jesus Christ, and Him alone” (p. 2). Hickson documented his assertion with specific cases: Complete cures were claimed as to pain, rheumatism, ear discharge, goiter, severe headaches, and blood poisoning (p. 118); blindness, paralysis, deafness, possession by evil spirits, asthma, stammering, and curvature of the spine (p. 128); palsy, dumbness, and mental deficiency (p. 151); deformed feet and legs made almost entirely normal (p. 152); “the healing of sin-sick souls” and “the healing of the body” (p. 168); partial paralysis, paralysis, infantile paralysis, rheumatoid arthritis, neuritis, St. Vitus’s dance, epilepsy, and mental disorders (pp. 182-183).” Hickson quotes a Bishops Pastoral Letter, addressed to the people of the Church of England in Australia, signed by all the archbishops and bishops in whose dioceses the Healing Missions were held. The clergy attested to “spiritual forces at work — the response of a loving Father to the prayer of His children, the healing power of a present Savior, the renewing influence of the Holy Spirit upon spirit, mind, and body” (pp. 198-199). They concluded that three things were needed in preparing congregations to assist the Ministry of Healing: (1) Penitence — the desire to be healed of all that is sinful in heart and life, all disobedience to the Will of God, all doubt of His love, all bitter and unloving thoughts of others. Only a penitent soul can expect to be healed. (2) Faith – God is working for the redemption of soul and body. God’s primary purpose for His children is holiness and health. (3) Prayer — True faith finds expression in prayer; it is not faith alone, but the prayer of faith that is the human condition of Divine Healing (p. 202). Hickson urges recognition of the following four things: (1) The appalling amount of physical, mental, and spiritual suffering there is in the world, which lies beyond the help of man; and hence the great need of the Healing Savior. (2) The wonderful faith of the people, their readiness to step out in the Name of Jesus Christ, and their desire to be led by the Church. (3) That the time is ripe for the revival in the Church of the Ministry of Healing. (4) How incomplete and inadequate the Church’s Ministry is, and also that of Medical Science, without the use of the spiritual gifts and powers, with which the Church is endowed; and the need for closer cooperation of doctor and priest in the work under Christ, the Healing Savior, for the full and complete redemption and healing of the bodies and souls of men. He adds: “The Church is working mainly for the soul’s salvation, the medical profession is trying to stamp out disease, Christ is the Great Physician of the body, and the Savior of the soul. His work was and is, to give full and complete redemption to man’s whole being, and to fit us for the Kingdom of God. If the world is to be freed from sickness and suffering, it must be free from sin — the root case of all disorder, physical, mental and spiritual — and the starting point is repentance. When man’s heart is changed, the world will be changed. Then the one prayer will be: “THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN”. . . And if the victory is to be won, it will be by the power of Christ through man, for there is no other Name under Heaven by which we can receive health and salvation, but only the name of Jesus Christ” (pp. 238-239). The author’s final chapters lay great stress on the work of the Holy Spirit in Christian healing; and many of the verses from the Bible that early AAs studied can be found cited by Hickson in these chapters — verses from the Gospels, from Acts, from James, from Corinthians, from Ephesians — and others dealing with the “gifts of healing.” (See 1 Corinthians 12:9.)
Healing in Jesus Name: The second significant title on healing that Dr. Bob studied and circulated — Healing in Jesus Name — is one I recommend for all those who desire to know what the founders investigated concerning their” cure” by the power of God. It is Healing in Jesus Name: Fifteen Sermons and Addresses on Salvation and Healing, by Ethel R. Willitts (Detroit, Michigan: Ethel R. Willitts, Evangelist, 1931). Sister Willitts refers to a large number of healings she brought about. But she also lays out the brick and mortar of Christian healing. And it comes from Bible verses that were commonplace in early AA. literature. Some of Willitts’s compelling chapter titles are: (1) The Will of God. (2) Whom Does the Lord Heal. (3) Stumbling Blocks to Faith. (4) Fear Not — the Deliverer is at Hand. (5) Because of Your Unbelief. (6) Completeness in Christ. (7) Faith — What It Is — How it is Obtained. (8) The Double Cure — Salvation and Healing. (9) Facts on Miracles and Healings of Today. (10) Does God Need the Aid of Medicine in Healing. I will not attempt to detail all of Willitts’s points, but she adds great force to her approach by relying on Bible verses which are relevant to the subject, well-known, and widely mentioned. She says, “Christ said that salvation was a fact, and we know His healing and miracles were a fact” (p. 10); and she covers both Old and New Testament healing accounts. Answering a point so often raised in AA. meetings today as to the will of God, she points out that healing has to do with the will and promises of God: “When the Lord promises to heal our bodies of any disease, He will do just what he says he will do. . . . The apostles in the early church times knew the will of God — that the sick and suffering were to have prayer offered for them, and that the Lord would cure their diseases” (p. 26). “Divine healing has all of heaven’s endorsements” (p. 36). “Whom does the Lord heal? Will He heal all the people that come unto Him? Is He the same mighty Christ that He was when He walked on earth as man? Yes!” (p. 41) “He quickens those that are dead in trespasses and sin and heals the body” (p. 47). “How different were the diseases of people who thronged about Christ to be healed . . . . All who reached Him were healed” (p. 48). “There are two streams flowing from Calvary — salvation and healing; but you must come to the meeting place — Christ — believe in Him and confess Him as your Lord” (p. 52). She lists stumbling blocks to faith such as failing to call on elders of the church (James 5:14); disobedience (1 Peter 2:8); “unclean lips” – “They which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” with a heart full of compassion and love for one another” (Mark 11:25); “Sickness, or afflictions on your body, will not become as a fear to you if you are saved and know Christ as the Great Physician. . . When Jesus Christ died on Calvary, He died there to destroy all sin and sin’s effects. Sickness and disease are the effect of sin. In Christ lie the supplies of health and life eternal. Why let unbelief, or an unforgiving spirit, or what people say of sin, stand in your way as a stumbling block . . . turn a deaf ear to unbelievers” (p. 66). You must have Active faith — an instantaneous faith that takes the promise now (p. 70). There are many many Biblical positions she urges: Becoming born again. Believing the Bible. Knowing that we can be made complete in soul and body — a complete salvation and a complete healing in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9-10). There is no case too hard for Jesus. We have been delivered from the power of darkness (Colossians 1:13). Jesus came to save and heal; and he bore all our sins and sickness (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). Make a complete surrender. Whatever your needs be, do not stop until you have come to Christ and are delivered, whether it be from sin in your soul or from sickness in your body (p.159). Bible reading and prayer are essential!
Dr. Bob’s Many Other Books on Healing and the Power of Prayer
There were many other powerful attestations in Dr. Bob’s library to specific cure and healing of mind and body by the power of God. Dr. Bob especially admired Glenn Clark, owned and circulated his healing book, and even attended his prayer camp with his (Dr. Bob’s) wife, Anne. Clark’s healing title was How to Find Health through Prayer, 3rd ed.(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940). And there were many others by authors of several of persuasions, most pointing up the accomplishments of Jesus Christ. These were: Parish the Healer by Maurice Barbanell (London: Psychic Book Club, 1938); Life Abundant for You by Louis Brownell (CA: The Aquarian Ministry,1928); Handles of Power by Lewis L. Dunnington (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1942; Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy (Boston: Published by the Trustees under the Will of Mary Baker G. Eddy, nd.); Christian Healing by Charles Fillmore (Missouri: Unity School of Christianity, nd.); The Meaning of Prayer by Harry Emerson Fosdick (New York: Association Press, 1915); Quiet Talks on Prayer by S. D. Gordon (London: Fleming, n.d.); The Runner’s Bible: Spiritual Guidance for People on the Run by Nora Smith Holm (Colorado: First Acropolis Book Edition, 1998); Recovery by Starr Daily (St. Paul: Macalester Park Publishing Company, 1948); Getting Results by Prayer by Emmet Fox (1933); Power Through Constructive Thinking12th ed., by Emmet Fox (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940); A Preface to Prayer by Gerald Heard (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1944); Prayer (Mightiest Force in the World) by Frank Laubach (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1946); Victorious Living by E. Stanley Jones (New York: Abingdon Press, 1936); A Primer of Prayer by Charles Laymon (Nashville: Tidings, 1949); Perfect Everything by Rufus Mosely (St. Paul: Macalester Publishing Company, 1949); Prayer Can Change Your Life by Dr. William R. Parker and Elaine St. Johns, new ed. (NY: Prentice Hall, 1957); The Nature of True Prayer by F. L. Rawson (England: The Society for Spreading the Knowledge of True Prayer, 1918); Creative Prayer by E. Herman (London: James Clarke & Co., circa 1921); and probably Elwood Worcester, Samuel McComb, Isador H. Coriat. Religion and Medicine: The Moral Control of Nervous Disorders (New York: Moffat, Yard & Company, 1908).
The Power of God in Healing — even of the Alcoholic!
Some Good Old Testimonials
First, some dramatic testimony which matches the healings of early AA.
The lawyer: The lawyer was a “heavy drinker” and, in confessing his “weakness,” he expressed a belief that there was “something in the Bible that says no drunkard shall have any part in the kingdom of God.” His Christian friend then drew close to the lawyer, read him some portions of the Bible, and said, “Let us get down and pray.” The lawyer prayed a simple prayer expressing his new faith in Christ and requesting that the power of alcohol would be broken in his life. Later, speaking of his deliverance from alcohol, the converted lawyer said, “Put it down big, put it down plain, that God broke that power instantly.” The lawyer’s name was C. I. Scofield, known now to millions as the editor of the Scofield Reference Bible. His faith in Christ freed him from the enslaving power of alcohol (Van Impe, Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy, pp. 156-57).
R.H.R.: “When I came to the Harbor Light [a Salvation Army facility] back in 1958, I was broken and defeated in many ways: mentally, spiritually and physically. At that point I turned my life over to God, and asked Him to help me. He answered my prayers, and now, with 8 years of sobriety back of me, thanks to His grace, I am and have for some time enjoyed a peace of mind that I had never before experienced. I read my Bible often, and do my best to live a good Christian life” (Van Impe, Alcoholism: The Total Treatment Approach, p. 358).
E.L.W.: When he finally arrived at Harbor Light, a derelict, he related that he had, during the preceding 10 years, been arrested over 100 times and had spent the greater part of this time in prisons. . . . He had tried hospital programs, dry-out centers, faith healing, cures and alcoholic programs — but without success. . . . Upon enrollment he did exceptionally well with us right from the beginning, and within 10 days gave testimony of having received a spiritual rebirth. He was elected by his fellows as chaplain of the men’s fellowship club and showed, in every facet of his life, a dramatic change. . . . This man became a Salvationist in December, 1965, and gives a forthright testimony to the power of God in his life (Van Impe, Alcoholism: The Total Treatment Approach, pp. 356-57).
Some Representative Advocates of Healing
The following are neither representative of all, nor a comprehensive list of, nor the totality of, the writings and views of thousands who believe and/or confirm, from one starting point or another, that the healing power of Jesus Christ is available today: Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ: Life-changing Adventures in Faith (Carmel, NY: Guideposts, 1980); Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997); E. W. Kenyon, In His Presence: The Secret of Prayer (Kenyon Publishing Society, 1999); E. W. Kenyon, Jesus the Healer (Kenyon Gospel Publishing Society, 2000); E. W. Kenyon, The Hidden Man (WA: Kenyon Publishing Society, 1998); E. W. Kenyon, The Wonderful Name of Jesus (Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society, 1998); John Baker, Celebrate Recovery (CA: Celebrate Recovery Books, 1994); Bob and Pauline Bartosch, Overcomers Outreach: A Bridge to Recovery (La Habra, CA: Overcomers Outreach, 1994); Cathy Burns, Alcoholics Anonymous Unmasked (PA: Sharing, 1991); Cal Chambers, Two Tracks-One Goal (British Columbia: Credo Publishing Corporation, 1992); Martin M. Davis, The Gospel and the Twelve Steps (San Diego, CA: RPI Publishing Inc., 1993); Len C. Freeland, author of Chapter 28, “The Salvation Army” in (Alcoholism: The Total Treatment Approach, edited by Ronald J. Catanzaro IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1968); Mark H. Graeser, John A. Lynn, John W. Schoenheit, Don’t Blame God: A Biblical Answer to the Problem of Evil, Sin and Suffering. (Indianapolis: Christian Educational Services, 1994); J. Keith Miller, A Hunger for Healing (NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991); William L. Playfair, The Useful Lie (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991); John R. Cheydleur, Every Day Sober is a Miracle (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996); Saul Selby, Twelve Step Christianity (MN: Hazelden, 2000); Loren Cunningham, Is That Really You, God?: Hearing the Voice of God (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 1984); Nora Smith Holm, The Runner’s Bible: Spiritual Guidance for People on the Run (GA: Acropolis Books, , 1st ed., 1998); Jim Wallis, Faith Works: Lessons from the Life of an Activist Preacher (New York: Random House, 2000); Anderson Spickard and Barbara R. Thompson, Dying for a Drink (Waco, TX: Word Book Publishers, 1985); Edward E. Decker, Jr. “‘Praying Through’: A Pentecostal Approach to Pastoral Care.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity (2001, Vol. 20, No. 4), pp. 370-77.
Defining the Role of God, the Bible, the Church, and the Clergy in Dealing with Alcoholism
Many in the religious community are actively and positively involved in trying to define the proper role of God, the Bible, the Church, and the Clergy in combating alcoholism. Many of those efforts, however, seem timid in terms of real power of God to cure. My own view is much more assertive and positive: God can empower, cure, heal, forgive, and deliver. And the religious community can and should do more to foster that conviction. It can teach the Bible. It can vitalize prayer. It can espouse God’s guidance. It can minister healing if it uses the tools Jesus Christ made available. Consider this account from Acts 3:
Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up; and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:1-8).
Rev. Sam Shoemaker offered some clear advice. Just look at what AA.’s “co-founder” and “spiritual well-spring” Rev. Sam Shoemaker wrote about God and the power He makes available to his children — the power even to be delivered from the fears and troubles that accompany alcoholism:
This kind of power is, I repeat, an achievement of faith, not an endowment of nature. The end result is to be “the sons of God” [1 John 3:2: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God . . .”; 1 John 5:1: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. . .”; I John 5:4: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world . . .” ]. But the prior condition is the reception of “power.” We in our day are very familiar with two kinds of power, mechanical power such as you see in dynamos and turbines. . . . and then the human power that gathers in great industrial combinations. . . . We know these two kinds of power, mechanical and human. But the New Testament refers to another kind of power. . . . St. John says by implication that this power is not found in men naturally; it is bestowed upon them by grace. There comes upon them a power from without which links up with a power that is within. . . it is the kind of power that is truly and fully found only in God. Until you have seen this power in human lives, you do not understand what the Christian religion is. . . . There Vie stands, waiting to give us His whole abundant life. It is for them that “receive Him,” and no one else can possibly have it. The locks and bars are not on the long gone inn of Bethlehem; there are on our own hearts. We sing it, but we must learn to pray it and mean it (Samuel M. Shoemaker, “Power to Become,” The Evangel [New York: 61 Gramercy Place, December 1954], pp. 40-43; see also John 1:12, which is the subject of Sam’s article; and Dick B. New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and AA., 2d ed. [Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1999], pp. 503-17).
The Clinebell Study
If you want a thorough review of the place religion occupies in alcoholism recovery, I feel Dr. Howard Clinebell has done the job best in his Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictions, supra. He covers the definitions of alcoholism and addiction. He covers the AA. picture and compares that with a good many other treatment “solutions.” He sets forth an evaluation of AA.’s effectiveness. He deals with the sin questions. And he deals with counseling. But there are several points that deserve special emphasis here: (1) “The radical new view of alcoholism, not as a disease but as a ‘central activity in heavy drinkers’ way of life,’ as described by Herbert Fingarette. . . clearly has transforming implications for conceptualizing and dealing with the ethical issues in alcohol addiction. . . . This will occur if the behavioral approaches by which problem drinkers (as believed by those who subscribe to this understanding) can change their drinking-centered way of life, are shown to be widely effective. This could help many more problem drinkers and alcoholics who do not find either AA. or mainstream disease model treatment center approaches helpful. . . . As Fingarette writes, ‘All the newer approaches also emphasize [like current mainstream approaches] that the drinker must accept responsibility and play an active role in bringing about the desired change.’ Yale scientist Giorgio Lolli said: ‘What is already known breeds a more tolerant attitude toward him [the addictive drinker] and favors a shift of attention from his objectionable deeds to those unfortunate experiences that determined them. The moral issue is not denied but reinterpreted in the light of medical, psychiatric and sociological facts. This reinterpretation helps considerably in efforts to free the addict from his ties to alcohol’ (pp. 299-300). Clinebell has some guarded views on how clergy should use religious resources such as prayer, scripture, or sacraments in counseling (p. 390). These may be valid, considering his prestige and experience, but they don’t satisfy me as to what the clergy of today need to emphasize and reintroduce — in the same forceful way Rev. Sam Shoemaker introduced them in the 1930’s in his books, sermons, talks, and work with Bill Wilson. On the other hand, Clinebell quotes physician Anderson Spickard, medical director of the Vanderbilt University Institute for the Treatment of Addiction: “In my twenty years of medical practice, few experiences have had a resurrection quality equal to that of watching alcoholics and their families leave behind the living death of addiction. Today, while much of the world staggers under the weight of chemical addiction, the church is called upon to be a vessel of this resurrection. . . . With a small investment of time and effort, any church can equip itself to minister to alcoholics and their families. . . . Recovering alcoholics are among the most spiritually vibrant Christians I know, and the enthusiasm and commitment they bring to their relationship with Christ contribute greatly to the spiritual health of the churches they attend” (pp. 433-34).
The Good News
If alcoholism is a disease, God can cure it if a believer seeks Him, asks Him, and obeys Him. If alcoholism is a behavior disorder, a believer who has been freed from bondage can change his behavior with the guidance and power of God. If alcoholism is a nutritional problem, God can certainly fit in that picture, as well as healing everything else that is produced by the problem, if the believer chooses to seek His help. If alcoholism is a sin, a believer can confess that sin, receive forgiveness, elect to turn from that sin, use the power of God in the effort, and end the sinful action by obeying God. (see I John 1:5-2:6; Acts 2:38-40). This is certainly not a treatise on how God heals and effects miracles. It is a proclamation as to His availability and power. In Acts 3, the lame man believed, Peter — using the power available after Pentecost — simply commanded in the name of Jesus Christ, and the healing was instantaneous. The Book of Acts is filled with similar examples. Once a person has accepted Christ, there are ample testimonies — some in this book — to God’s answering simple prayers by penitent alcoholics. Harold Begbie’s Twice Born Men (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1909) contained testimonials written long before AA. began and of great popularity in Pioneer AA. Anne Smith specifically lists six such books in her spiritual journal that was shared with early AAs. There’s much much more, and this is just an opening challenge.
What Is Not Required in Order to Tell the Good News
One does not have to evangelize AA., reform it, or convert it to its old-school Christian fellowship form, in order to tell the good news. Old-school AA. was a Christian Fellowship, studied the Bible, learned about and understood the Creator, came to Him through accepting Jesus Christ, and was blessed with tremendous success by relying on the Creator (or “Heavenly Father”).
The successes through this approach are no less available today than they were in the First Century Christian Fellowship of the Bible, in the healing ministries Dr. Bob studied, and in the simple approaches of Akron Number One.
In today’s “inclusive” AA. Fellowship, there should be no hesitancy whatever about telling the truth of AA.’s early history. There should be no hesitancy whatever about allowing individuals and groups to follow the very practices that were followed in Akron Number One. There should be no banning of Bibles, no bashing of Christians, and no ridiculing of religion — anyone’s religion. There should be no hesitancy about encouraging attendance at churches, Bible fellowships, religious retreats, and religious convocations — just as early AA. did, in Akron and in New York. There should be no hesitancy about putting an end to the observable attempts in word and deed to reform AA. — to transform it into a fellowship which attempts to attract by down-grading the importance of God and religion and applauds beliefs in idols or anything or nothing at all. There should be no hesitancy about encouraging people to obtain all the help they can get from medicine, from religion, from churches, from rabbis, from ministers, and from priests — just as early AA. did.
If ever there were a time in AA.’s short history that it should look at its own early spiritual program, that time is now. The founders are dead. The real spiritual roots — coming directly from the Bible — have been buried and ignored. Probably most AAs have never heard of Frank Amos or the Alcoholic Foundation or the Amos Report. Yet all these embraced and applauded the original program. You don’t have to adopt the Pioneer program in order to allow it to be learned within AA., practiced within AA., published by AA., and publicized as one of the important elements of AA.’s success. These facts should become just as available to anyone anywhere and from AA. as are AA.’s Big Book, the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and any other resources of this unique and well-known society.