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Is Celebrate Recovery a biblically sound program?

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Celebrate Recovery (CR) is a national, Christ-centered self-help program hosted by local churches to help people struggling with addiction or other life-controlling issues. The program began in Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and is now used in churches around the world. From their website: “Celebrate Recovery is a biblical and balanced program that helps us overcome our hurts, hang-ups, and habits. It is based on the actual words of Jesus rather than psychological theory.

“25 years ago, Saddleback Church launched Celebrate Recovery with 43 people. It was designed as a program to help those struggling with hurts, habits and hang-ups by showing them the loving power of Jesus Christ through a recovery process. Celebrate Recovery has helped more than 17,000 people at Saddleback, attracting over 70% of its members from outside the church. Eighty-five percent of the people who go through the program stay with the church and nearly half serve as church volunteers. Celebrate Recovery is now in over 29,000 churches worldwide!”

Celebrate Recovery, is a Christian alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or other secular 12-step programs for overcoming addictions. Celebrate Recovery is based upon the premise that Jesus Christ is our “higher power” and that through faith in Him we can overcome anything. This transformation comes about during the process of working the twelve steps of recovery. Again, from the Celebrate Recovery website:


1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18

2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:1

3. We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Lamentations 3:40

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10

7. We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31

9. We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23–24

10. We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 1 Corinthians 10:12

11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Colossians 3:16

12. Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1

Celebrate Recovery also teaches eight principles of recovery, based on the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3–12. Each one of the eight principles is linked to one or more of the twelve steps.

As with any organization, Celebrate Recovery has strengths and weaknesses. One of its many strengths is the welcoming, affirming atmosphere offered anyone who attends. Many people who have struggled with socially unacceptable behaviors for years find the welcoming atmosphere a strong draw that keeps them coming back. Celebrate Recovery is often a court-accepted rehabilitation program for those ordered to such by a judge. Because of this, many people have found Christ who would never have otherwise darkened a church doorway.

One of Celebrate Recovery’s weaknesses concerns its advice that people should “love themselves” and “forgive God”—neither admonition is biblical. Another weakness is that the program is self-led and self-run, sometimes by people not long out of their own addictions. Many times, those catapulted to leadership positions are not ready for such assignments, and their public relapse can take others with them. Also, local leaders of Celebrate Recovery are often young Christians themselves and not spiritually or emotionally prepared for the overwhelming burden of pastoral care such a “flock” requires. And some pastors find that Celebrate Recovery becomes a parachurch entity carried on within the walls of a local church building without truly assimilating into the church body. First Timothy 5:22 warns church leaders, “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”

But despite its flaws, Celebrate Recovery has been a life-saver and a life-transformer for thousands of people. Its evangelical emphasis on the gospel and the Word of God has brought good results. Many people helped by Celebrate Recovery have gone on to serve the Lord with faithfulness and sobriety, and they owe their continued success to the skills and biblical foundation they received through Celebrate Recovery. When the local leaders keep themselves under the authority and guidance of the church who hosts them, Celebrate Recovery can be of great benefit to that church and the surrounding community.

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Is Celebrate Recovery a biblically sound program?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022