Traditional, conservative churches often do not even discuss the ever present reality of addiction, but the tides are beginning to turn on this matter. Progressive churches everywhere understand how serious a battle against addiction is and want to help the addicted members of their congregation rather than condemn addiction and offer no help with it.
It has long been the tradition in the church to dismiss addiction as blatant sin and idolatry. The solution offered for addiction was simply ‘Don’t do it,’ which, as we have observed, is far too simplistic to be useful to the complex problem of addiction. This obtuse dismissal has resulted in very high addiction statistics within the church which can no longer be denied. Progressive churches are recognizing the need for addiction support within the church, and the following services are slowly becoming available within the church community:
Counseling for addicts. Most addicts are in too deep to dig themselves out of their addiction and need the help of a mental health professional in order to begin their recovery.
Counseling for the families of addicts. The family of an addict suffers a great deal watching their loved one struggle with addiction and require counseling in order to process the fearful and frustrating realities they have encountered.
Referrals to christian rehabs. Pastors, elders and mental health professionals within the church can guide and direct cases of severe addiction to a Christian rehab, where they can recover in an environment that their faith is protected within.
Support groups within the church. Truly progressive churches have congregation members who are unafraid to admit to their struggles with addiction and are allowed to organize support groups within the church to lift each other up through their struggles.
Worship sessions and services specifically for addicts. Programs are emerging across North America that are meant to give addicts and substance abusers a safe place to worship and hear a sermon on nights of the week when substance abuse normally commences.
Awareness of addiction in the church has grown in recent years, but it is still found to be lacking within many church communities. Some churches can still be found to treat addiction like leprosy. There is nothing they have to say about it other than to get rid of it. But this does not accurately reflect the stance that the whole Christian community takes on addiction. Many other churches know that addiction is as common as it is because it is a powerful and legitimate foe. These churches approach the subject of addiction with a healthy level of respect, awareness and sympathy.
Presently, the modern church is divided on the matter of how to approach addiction. The church has historically been very willing to label addiction as sin, and qualify it as a punishable behavior. Many conservative churches still follow this approach to addiction, which is quickly becoming antiquated and inappropriate. The more modern, progressive church is willing to acknowledge how prevalent addiction is and treat it like a disease or a disorder rather than simply a sinful lifestyle. They also accept the accuracy of the statistics that reflect how many congregation members are likely to struggle with addiction.
In the future, it is the hope of this blogger that addiction will continue to be addressed as a common and widespread problem so that church members can have real dialogue about it. There are so many congregation members who would benefit from addiction being not only an acceptable thing to discuss openly within the church, but also being a forgivable thing to their church community. If addicts felt safe within the church universally, there would be far more progress made in the lives of addicts because they would more readily have the support they needed from their community. Hopefully the church will continue to recognize the need for addiction support and discussion within the church to be an inclusive organization.
One of the best ways of fighting addiction is through prayer and community. The church has its faults, but one thing it has been praised for even by the secular world is its community building model. The church is long practiced at bringing people together to behave in a familial way as a community. This model has been in place for centuries, and has served as an example of how people can come together to support one another and become strong through friendship and love.
This is important to those struggling with addiction, because often, a strong support system is exactly what an addict needs. Sadly, many people who are afflicted with addiction cannot count on their current support system, because they may enable their addiction or contribute to the mental problems that influence their addiction. For people like this especially, it is very important to find a stable support system that can be counted on to lift them up in moments of weakness.
The church seldom has its doors closed. One of a church’s functions is to be available to its congregation many hours in a week. Active churches schedule events to take place most evenings during the week and on weekends as well. Small groups form so that like-minded people can commune together and individual friendships flourish so that people can develop close relationships. A huge benefit to attending church is that it keeps a person occupied. Having plenty of ways to keep your mind busy and your schedule full is a key to defeating addiction.
Another powerful asset the church can offer is prayer. Prayer is a fundamental practice to Christians and the power of prayer should never be underestimated. Praying to God is literally speaking to him your thoughts, praise and communication. What Christians the world over attest to is that praying invokes a response from God himself, whether it is immediate or in his time. Many recovering addicts agree that the power of prayer worked supernatural wonders within them to fight their addiction and restore them to healthy minds.
To many church goers, the church can mistakenly seem like a place that is free of addiction and mental disorder. To believe this would be a mistake. The church is a place for any kind of broken person or sinner to come find sanctuary from whatever is haunting them, and to find relief by focusing on God through worship and sermon. But addicts and people with mental disorders are not cured from their illnesses by attending church. Leaving behind something that is ingrained into your psychology is a process that requires time, effort and faith. The process is different for every person. To think that an entire congregation is free from these hardships is a fallacy.
The reason that a person can attend church and still struggle with addictions and mental disorders is that, while the church does its best to arrange a meeting place between people and God, a person’s wholeness depends on their relationship with God, not with the church. Sometimes people talk about the church as if it fully and accurately represents God, but this is a mistake. We must never forget that God is perfect and divine, and the church is a flawed human effort to honor him. Church leaders and congregation members are susceptible to dishonesty, money mismanagement, pride, laziness and a number of other sinful behaviors. As important as it is to have a Christian church family to commune with, the church can never replace the role God is meant to have in your life. God’s love and forgiveness has the power to end your addiction or mental disorder, not the church.
The church’s role is to create community among believers and to provide a place to come together to worship God as one. The bible says that when God returns, it will be to bring the church to heaven. The church is referred to as the “bride” of Christ, meaning those who have been faithful to his name are to be with him for eternity. This does not mean that the church is made up of people who have no sin or brokenness in their lives. It simply means they have accepted Jesus as their personal savior, which means their sin is forgiven and they will be allowed to approach the throne of God in heaven.
The media has recently brought attention to the problem of addiction in the church. It used to be that church was the last place people thought they would find addiction. It was a subject that was either swept under the rug within church communities, or dismissed as blatant sin that had no place in church discussion. But information became available on the Catholic priest sex scandals and the studies on sex addiction in the church which revealed that the church community actually resembles the secular world when it comes to addiction. Since this time, intelligent church communities have responded by addressing the matter in sermons and in group studies. Unintelligent churches have continued trying to avoid or condemn the matter.
The stance that the modern church takes is that addiction is a disease that can be remedied by surrender to God. It acknowledges the fact that a person’s neural network becomes rearranged around the addiction, and that the brain’s chemistry changes to depend on the addictive substance or behavior. It acknowledges that because of this, it is important to bare in mind that addiction is not about choice alone, but can also be a matter of physical necessity. It acknowledges that people of all demographics are hit equally hard by addiction and that rehabilitation and addiction treatment are often a medical and mental health necessity.
But where the intelligent church differs from the secular world on the matter of addiction is how surrendering your weaknesses to God’s limitless power can be addiction’s undoing. By acknowledging your own inability to control your impulses, you acknowledge that you are in need of saving. Christians understand that nothing can save them except for the grace and the love of the one true God. Addiction is a testament to our soul’s dependence on God’s love and forgiveness, and can teach us how much we need him. It can also teach us how ready he is to care for us and the hurts that caused addiction in the first place.
The world is a small place in the present time, and we are forced to live in close proximity of things that can influence us for the worst. Christians tend to have an unspoken standard of moderation when it comes to pleasurable activities, or in other words, Christians think that Christians should not struggle with addiction. And while the love of God is the true antidote to our sinful nature, Christians must come to appreciate the complexities of addiction, how tight its grasp can be and how laborious the journey of recovery is.
First of all, if a Christian person has no compassion for an addict and holds them entirely responsible for their behavior, it is probably because they are ignorant of what addiction is, and were fortunate enough to never be personally affected by it. Or perhaps they were personally affected by it and developed a complex toward it. Addiction is a psychological, environmental, behavioral and biological illness. When a Christian lets their addiction control them, though they will not admit it, they are declaring their love for their addiction to be stronger than their love for God. Those who have experienced God’s presence know that no addiction can compare to His awesomeness, but those who become worshipful of their addiction have either become distracted from the fulfillment that God brings or they have never experienced it in the first place.
A Christian who is battling addiction needs to take what they know of scripture and apply it to their lives. Being honest enough to admit your problem with addiction is very important, as God sees your heart and there is nothing you can hide from him. You must acknowledge that replacing God, the giver of life, with a false idol has been toxic to your body, mind, heart and soul. Come to terms with your need for closeness with God, which addiction replaced for a time, and ask for forgiveness – from God and from the people you affected in your addiction. Acknowledge that you have the free will to return to your addiction, then willingly give it to God, knowing that it is the decision that will save your life.