Should We Run The Alpha Course?
Should We Run The Alpha Course?
The Alpha Course - A Quick Refresher
A question that has recently arisen (again) in our church is that of The Alpha Course. Pretty much everyone is aware or has heard about the Church of England's evangelical course. Originally from London's Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) church, the course has now spread to many countries around the world. But is it any good? and more importantly should you run one?
The best description I have heard that sums up the Alpha Course is: Theologically light, experientially heavy. In truth, if this was the end of the matter then, although there are probably better alternatives, I wouldn't have an issue with any church going ahead with it. But sadly that is not the end of it. Apart from Alpha's obvious weakness of not presenting the entire gospel, specifically omitting or downplaying the issue of sin and judgement - it has, in my observation, some serious issues surrounding it.
Road to Toronto
Firstly, the course is centred around participants having an "experience" of The Holy Spirit. This is demonstrated by the culmination of the process ending with The Holy Spirit weekend.
Nicky Gumbel and HTB were the conduit (via John Wimber) by which the so-called "Toronto Blessing" and later "Brownsville Revival" made their way into the UK. Gumbel has on numerous occasions linked the two (Alpha & Toronto) together - such as In an article in the Charismatic magazine in May 1995 when Nicky Gumbel wrote:
'I believe it is no coincidence that the present movement of the Holy Spirit [referring to the Toronto blessing ] has come at the same time as the explosion of the Alpha Courses. I think the two go together'
I believe, as many other charismatic Christians also do, that the Toronto experience was NOT a genuine move of God but rather a fleshly (even demonically inspired) manifestation. The absence of biblical support and the obvious lack of spiritual fruit (such as self control) precludes it from being so. In Alpha these false "experiences", which share more in common with kundalini yoga than with biblical Christianity, are presented as an encounter with God, even evidence of salvation - Certainly Alpha puts more emphasis on this than it does on repentance, for instance.
This link between the Alpha Course and experiencing, what we believe to be, a false manifestation of The Holy Spirit is deeply concerning.
Does it Work?
Secondly, while the Church of England likes to boast about the number of people who have attended Alpha Courses and even though its slick marketing and high production value might lead one to think that, as an evangelical tool, it is second to none - The evidence in terms of how well it performs is not so positive.
How has The Church of England's "flagship" evangelical resource performed over the 32 years since its re-launch in 1990?
Regular Sunday morning C of E attendances have almost halved in the same period and statistics show that over the last ten years the Church of England is haemorrhaging members at a rate of over 2,500 per month. Many are predicting that at this rate of decline the denomination will collapse completely within a generation. All this at a time when other denominations are growing, such as Pentecostals and FIECs.
This does not seem to me to be the fruit of a successful ministry.
Papa Don't Preach
Finally, and perhaps most troubling to me, is the way that the Alpha Course is wrapped in an ecumenical blanket. As an attendee of the Alpha course you would not be able to distinguish between biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism. Almost every course episode contains vignettes from prominent Roman Catholics (including the Pope's personal priest), quotes from Popes, saints & bishops, Roman Catholic imagery and in the final episode Nicky Gumbel makes the extraordinary statement that he "loves the Roman Catholic Church", not that he loves Roman Catholics (which would be excusable,) but the church itself. Based on the content of the preceding episodes this should come as no surprise of course.
Just to be clear here - The Roman Catholic Church is not simply a different expression of Christianity - it is not the case that we are all worshiping the same God in a different way. Roman Catholicism teaches a different Jesus to the Jesus of Scripture, a different God and a different Holy Spirit. It preaches a demonstrably false Gospel and has been responsible for deceiving hundreds of millions of people for centuries. It is also responsible for the deaths of millions of true believers who would rather face torture and martyrdom than renounce their faith. It is satanic and its doctrines are the doctrines of demons - The bible is explicit in that we, as followers of Christ, should have nothing to do with it - other than preaching the Gospel to its members.
Whilst I acknowledge that there may well be individual Roman Catholics who are truly saved, the Lord would NEVER direct them to remain practicing it, as this would force them into idolatry and The Holy Spirit would not deliberately direct people into sinful behaviour - no, rather the Spirit of Holiness would only ever direct believers OUT of it.
In recent years I have witnessed an insidious creep towards the church of Rome. I've seen its false doctrines and its mystical pagan practices (usually dressed up as a new way of experiencing God) finding their way into otherwise biblical churches. Introduced by well-meaning brethren who perhaps are ignorant of church history and who certainly have a very poor understanding of what the Roman Catholic church actually believes and teaches.
So, just to recap - The Alpha Course
- Doesn't teach the full Gospel
- Doesn't deal with sin and judgement
- Is centred around "experiencing" God rather than repentance
- Aims to bring people into experiencing the so-called Toronto blessing
- Has had no effect on the declining numbers of its denomination
- Presents Roman Catholicism as just another expression of Christianity
- Ultimately is attempting to undo or ignore the reformation
Should you run the course in your church? You'll have to decide that for yourself.