Self-Help/Support Groups*

Catharsis for Christians?

-  More and more, it is not the Word of God that binds our hearts and minds in common unity, but rather our particular "dysfunction" or "addiction" or "need." With increasing frequency, the church is being fragmented into small groups centered on the group's common problem and often organized around the 12-step method adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous [e.g., the "codependency" support-group movement within the professing church]. We share our problems, we share our feelings, we share our "victimizations," we share our sinful lusts—in fact, we almost glory in these things. The result is a dependent elitism. And one comes to believe that only the others in the group can really understand him or her—that only those in the group know what the others suffer, struggle with, hurt over, etc.

-  The idea behind such groups, in theory, can serve a good purpose. It is good to know that others of like background have overcome temptation and are there to encourage us. But the dangers inherent in such groupings are many and are detrimental to the church. Five such dangers are listed below:

1. Because group identity is so strong, there is little real identification with the rest of the church or with its mission. In fact, one often sees the mission of the church as meeting one's own particular "need," which in most cases is defined as "helping to control my 'problem' [never my sin] and work through the pain it causes me."

2. There is little deep fellowship with, or ministry to, other believers outside of the "identity" group. Only the group is deemed as being able to provide the unique sympathy craved. [What we end up with, in reality, are church-sponsored pity parties.]

3. Dependence on the group is usually so great that if one is separated from it for any length of time, his or her Christian walk begins to deteriorate.

4. Because the group's center is the group's common problem, and the methodology designed to control the problem, there never develops the confidence in Christ's faithfulness which allows one to experience the reality of His sufficiency and His power. Instead, sufficiency and power flow from the group and the group's methodology.

5. One's relationship with Christ is always self-centered. It always focuses on one's "problem" and how one can use Christ to keep the "problem" under control. This sabotages a healthy relationship of absolute dependence on Christ. One never completely trusts Jesus as his Lord of Glory, his only hope of glory, and himself as a servant of others for Christ's sake (2 Cor. 4:7). (The very nature of the group limits one's ability to move toward bringing every thought captive to Christ, where one's every longing is to see Christ face to face, where one's every work is to glorify and exalt Christ alone, and one's greatest joy is fellowship with Christ.)

-  Often those who get into these groups never seem to get beyond their "problem." They never seem to get their focus on Christ. They seem instead to always ponder their "victimization" or the problems stemming from it. Always they identify themselves as a "recovering" something or other, still "working through their feelings." In other words, they always remain self-focused.

-  Such fragmenting of believers into self-help/support groups is unbiblical. All such groupings ultimately teach a deficient understanding of Christ and our new life in Him. The glory of the Christian's calling, the whole purpose of his or her life in Christ, is to exalt Christ wholeheartedly, worship Him and imitate Him with great joy. It is not to create a "life that is under control" or "behavior that works."

-  Both Scripture and personal experience teach that believers are not to center their lives around any particular sin or the memory of it or the threat of it. Nor are they to fellowship on the basis of any sin. But that is exactly what groups modeled on AA do. [The group ends up making doctrine out of common experience.] "One must never forget one's problem or escape its shadow," they say. Yet, the bondage continues, despite Christ. The great liberty that is ours in Christ is never experienced (Rom. 6:14), nor is Christ ever truly trusted as He desires (Heb. 4:14-16). What is trusted and practiced is the method itself.

-  The Christian's growing reliance on such methods as the 12-step program is a terrible admission about our lack of reliance on the reality and power of our Lord Jesus. Scripture offers us a far more excellent way, and a far more exciting way, than any 12-step method. In 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Paul lists many sinful behaviors that once characterized the Corinthians. Some had been sexually promiscuous, others had been adulterers, male prostitutes, and homosexuals. Still others had been idolaters, thieves, greedy money-grubbers, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers. Yet concerning this group Paul says, "And that is what some of you were"—past tense. You were that but you are not that anymore. What a glorious declaration of deliverance! He goes on to say, "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God"—cleaned up, made straight, and set free.

The one thing you don't read of the Corinthians doing, even after many behaved carnally, even after Satan moved in with his "super-apostles" and Paul had to apply strong disciplinary measures—is breaking up into small groups each according to his or her past, sinful "addiction." In fact, no present, sinful addiction was to be tolerated. The ex-drunkards didn't get off by themselves because only other ex-drunkards could understand their hurts and disappointments and struggles. Nor did the ex-homosexuals, ex-thieves, ex-prostitutes, ex-swindlers, or ex-anybody. Their fellowship was not in what they had been or what had been done to them. It was centered in Jesus Christ. They had been washed, sanctified, and justified "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." They were not "recovering" victims of any stripe.

-  It is time for the Christian to get back to the Bible and to put aside all of the how-to, self-help books. It is time to abandon the "discovered" wisdom of psychotherapy and the support group mentality. Let us return to the Scriptures and allow them to rebuke, correct, teach, and encourage us into paths of righteousness and service with joy. For that is what God intended in giving them to us. And if, at the Bema seat of our Lord Jesus, we are told that we put too much confidence in Christ and His Word, and that we should have submitted instead to His "discovered revelation," then to our shame we will be "as one escaping through the flames." Yet with all your heart, can you imagine Him saying, "You trusted my Word too much."?

* Unless otherwise indicated, the material used in this report was excerpted and/or adapted from Jim Owen's 1993 book, Christian Psychology's WAR on God's Word: The Victimization of the Believer, pp. 137-141; by permission of EastGate Publishers, 4137 Primavera Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93110.

Biblical Discernment Ministries - 5/93