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Why The Church Gathering Should be Like a Good AA Meeting

The other day, I tweeted that “the Eucharist can be likened to a good AA meeting intensified by the Real Presence.” What did I mean?

I had just had an impactful cup of coffee with a recovering alcoholic. We talked a lot about the daily/weekly rituals of being an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) member. One more time, I was struck by how much like a church (or what a church should be) the AA community is. I asked myself, “Why could this man enter an AA meeting so easily, yet found it so difficult to connect with our gathering?”

I contend that a church gathering should be like a good AA meeting. An AA meeting gathers people together who are admitted alcoholics. They bring their full awareness of themselves before one another and engage in a ritual of “being present,” one with another, in their sin. When they gather, they recite the first step: that they are powerless over alcohol. It is not unlike the corporate confession in the Christian gathering. They acknowledge that they must surrender to a “Power greater than themselves” if they are to regain sanity. They hear from one another. Often, like a good sermon, they receive a challenge from the AA Big Book. They commit to a total practice of reconciliation (similar to what Christians do before the Eucharist). They encounter this reality in all its brute force. And then, in this moment, they gain the sustenance to live life faithfully for another day.

To me, this is what Sunday morning is in a nutshell. It should be like this, except intensified by the “real presence” of Christ that locates in the Eucharist. We gather with similar dynamics, to confess our sin, reconcile, commit to this life, hear from the Word of God (his voice, his presence through the proclamation), and then surrender to the Eucharist and receive complete forgiveness and renewal in the Spirit.

The interesting and perhaps problematic issue for Christians is the choice of words in referring to God as “your higher power.” The cultural derivations (specifically in Western North American culture) of this word choice, however, are fascinating. How it shapes our view of God and our posture toward God is even more fascinating. The potential, I would argue, is for both good and disaster. Yet, because of the brokenness by which each person comes to AA, it can easily become the entry gate to an experience of God, whose (I would argue) completion can eventually be found in Christ. But I digress.

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David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.