Thank you to Anthony for sharing his powerful story of how the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to the truth of what Alcoholics Anonymous really is and setting him free from it's clutches.
My journey in AA started when I was in the college group at my church. Another member at church attended NA meetings and at their suggestion I started attending AA meetings out of a desperate desire not to go back to drinking again. Even though I initially had concerns about their views of God and that alcoholism was some sort of disease or allergy, the people there seemed to genuinely care about helping me stay sober and would go out of their way to help me. A lot of what they had to say seemed to be pretty practical, something I didn't think anyone at church would understand or be able to provide.
My experience with AA was generally a positive one. I got a sponsor, went through the 12 steps, sponsored others, shared in meetings and even organized new groups which were “solution based". My life improved. I developed better social skills and I gained a lot of confidence I didn't previously have. I got married and had a very nice job. My thinking was less fixated on myself and more towards others. I was one of the "Big Book Thumper" types. I stuck to the "first 164 pages" and didn't get into any of the "advanced AA” stuff as some of them would say. I was told that this was the best way to stay sober and not become a "dry drunk" and I was wary of anyone who used the 12 and 12 as someone who advocated a diluted message of AA. So I stuck with it and vigorously worked the 12 steps for the better part of 6 years.
Early into my venture with AA, the nagging of my conscience was much more pronounced. I was particularly concerned about AA’s teaching that you could come to God as you understood him and that it seemed to promote the idea that anyone could have a right relationship with God regardless of their standing with Christ. I can remember on one occasion sitting on the floor in my room praying and crying out of fear I was somehow betraying Christ, but everyone around me kept telling me I wasn’t. My sponsor, who professed Christ, assured me that I wasn’t by staying with AA. I talked to two pastors at my church about my concerns and neither definitively said that I would be involved in anything dangerous or contrary to scripture. Neither of them had any direct knowledge of AA, only what they heard from others and I was encouraged to stick with it. This eased my conscience somewhat so I continued on thinking there must be some answer to my concerns that I couldn't really figure out. Additionally, my sponsor constantly reminded me not to think too hard about things or else I may drink. He said the AA program was one of action, not one of hard thinking. I reasoned that since I was staying sober and my life was improving that I must have been doing something right. My fear of drinking again, and knowing my tendency to become unhealthily fixated on things, kept me from trying to resolve what I felt were contradictions between my professed faith in Christ and AA. I was also told that the founders of AA were Christians who just wanted to help as many people as possible, which I reasoned was a noble thing to desire so it must be good. I was even told that AA was really like “the Bible for dummies” because it was simple and focused on practical applications and results. It was easy for me to see many of the parallels between the Bible and AA, so maybe what I was hearing was right after all. It was likewise hard for me to deny that other people who clearly didn’t know Christ were staying sober through the program, and AA taught that it was their relationship with God that was the cause.
The first thing which really started my path out of AA was the birth of my first son. I met my wife in AA and we were both very much committed to AA at the time. We had even made a point to attend an AA meeting while on our honeymoon. However, with my sons birth a bible verse kept coming up in my mind that I knew I needed to take seriously. The verse is Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” I began asking myself, how do I teach my son that there is one way to God through Jesus, and that there is no other way, but yet at the same time tell him that I go to these meetings and tell people that they can come to any god they choose and they will stay sober? The whole thing felt extremely hypocritical of me and that was the first thing that really bothered me enough to make me seriously question whether or not I should continue in AA. I wondered why would my son be inclined to be believe in the one who is the Truth, the Way and the Life if I was simultaneously telling others that they didn’t really need him? I had an unshakeable desire to teach my son Biblical truth and I knew that if being in AA was wrong, then I would be guilty of leading my own children away from God. This nagging at the conscience was the small beginning of an almost two year search for answers that ultimately led me out of AA.
The most pivotal in my turning away from AA was during a meeting. I can’t remember exactly what the topic was, but a man I had never seen before began talking about the cross and forgiveness. He said that when he sins he knows that they are all “nailed to the cross” so to speak. As I listened to him share, I became angry. Why in the world was this guy talking about Jesus and religion so blatantly in an AA meeting? Didn’t he know that talk of Jesus scared drunks away and that people may die because they’ll turn away from hearing the “solution” in AA? Before he was finished sharing I knew there was something seriously wrong, and it almost hit me like a ton of bricks. Did I actually just get angry because someone talked about Jesus to a group of desperately sinful people who need him? Did I really just get mad at the idea of the gospel competing with AA? Was I really buying into the idea that “god as you understand him” was just a stepping stone to the real God? God’s word teaches that there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). This means that no false god should ever at any time be a mediator, or a stepping stone if you will, between us and God. It is directly through Jesus and Jesus alone that we come to Him.
As I immersed myself in the God's word, I began to realize that AA is not as neutral to the Christian faith as it claims. In fact makes it’s own claims about God and those claims actually do oppose the Christian faith. If AA stated that people of any faith could join and didn't present it's own views of God or teach it's own spiritual doctrines, that would be one thing. However, this is not what you find there. AA doctrine may claim not to oppose anyone, but since it states that anyone of any faith can join AND to then goes on to declare that you can come to God however you understand him and goes further into it's own spiritual doctrines and instruction on how to have a relationship with God. I realized this sort of misleading double-talk amounts to an opposition against Christian doctrine on a fundamental level. At this point I began to question a whole host of other things I learned in AA such as the supposed powerlessness over the first drink, meditation practices of the 11th step, the alcoholics purpose in life, the constant identification of myself with my sin, the constant and exhausting inventory of “character defects”, etc. I went through nearly two years of real spiritual struggle because I simply could not shake this idea that something was wrong with me being in AA. No amount of rationalization could keep it down.
My initial approach during all of this was to just stop teaching people that you can believe whatever god you want. I thought I could just teach them about Jesus and stop teaching all the things I didn’t agree with. I decided I would continue to participate in meetings and try to treat AA as a mission field. I did this for some time, but my list of AA doctrines I could no longer teach out of a clear conscience slowly began to grow as my understanding of God’s word began to grow. With every AA doctrine I found at odds with the bible, I felt the walls closing in and the door closing on my ability to be involved with AA. Furthermore, I discovered the claim that the AA founders were Christian proved to be totally false since they were essentially heretics involved in immoral behavior and occult practices. Harry Emerson Fosdick, referenced in the big book, was a false teacher and herald of theological liberalism that undermined biblical Christianity. On a more personal level, some of my closest AA friends who I thought were Christians actually turned out to to be heretics with cult beliefs. Then I discovered that Bill Wilson penned the words of the big book while being either directly or indirectly influenced by demonic spirits through his occult practices. With all of this I found it extremely difficult to share and participate in meetings without somehow violating God’s word.
As my biblical convictions grew, I started to become more vocal about my concerns to my wife. I questioned whether or not I was just looking for a way out so I could go drink again. We were both afraid of what this could lead to, because as they say in AA, “alcohol is a subtle foe.” Despite my fears, 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 had a profound impact on me when I understood that my involvement in AA was essentially joining Christ with Belial. Sure, I was staying sober, but at what cost? I already knew that my thinking was being more and more influenced by false AA doctrine than the bible. I became convinced that in AA I was gaining the world (sobriety) at the risk of losing my soul (Matthew 16:26). I eventually came to the conclusion that I had to leave. For me to stay would be a blending of AA and Christianity, which amounted to nothing more than idolatrous syncretism. Was I breaking my loyalty to the people in AA who had helped me stay sober all those years? Yes, I was. But loyalty to Christ supersedes any loyalty to anyone in AA or AA itself.
Although I know there are exceptions, I was generally liked and respected by the other members in the meetings I attended. Everyone's experience in AA is different and not everyone approaches the 12 steps the way that I did. Yet I mention all these things hoping that others who had a similar experience would know that my decision to leave AA wasn't because I couldn't stay sober or wasn't working the 12 steps. Neither was it because of some falling out I had with anyone there. It wasn't out of a subtle desire to just get away from people to whom I was accountable so that I could drink again. What I experienced was a constant nagging at my conscience that something wasn’t right between my Christian faith and AA beliefs and practices. Looking back, I believe this was the Holy Spirit working in me to bring me out of the organization.
After I left AA it took some time to unlearn all the false doctrine I picked up over the years there. It seemed like almost daily I was finding something in God’s word which exposed another AA doctrine as a lie. During this time it was almost as if I went through a spiritual shock and I missed having so many different people to see and hang out with at meetings. My wife was concerned because my attitude and behavior were not what they were. I had lost my main motivation to do good that I learned in AA, which was to not drink and to keep God on my good side so he would keep me sober. At first this hindered my efforts to help my wife to also leave AA because she thought she was seeing me become a dry drunk without the program. Over time I was able to root my motivations in God’s word and to serve him with love without fear of taking another drink lurking in the background. God was also working in my wife’s heart and mind to help her see the truth of what God’s word taught. Thankfully, she has also made the decision to leave AA and to serve Christ alone. My wife and I are still happily sober. My hope and prayer is that Christians will see AA for what it is, and that those involved would honor Christ and leave.
Chad Prigmore is Pastor and President of The Way Ministry Church USA & Kenya.