ALPHA COURSE-IS IT GOOD FOR CATHOLICS?



JUNE 2010, MAY 2012

NICKY’ GUMBEL’S ALPHA COURSE


I attended a one-day Alpha programme presented by Nicky Gumbel on February 19, 2002 [see pages 111, 112] in Chennai at the Music Academy, a secular venue. I chanced upon him during the lunch break and he signed for me a copy of his 1993 best-selling book “Questions of Life” that I had bought in 1997, and which I have still not opened. I also have a copy each of his 1991 booklet “Why Jesus” and “Telling Others”, 1994. I intended going through the books while preparing this report, but after finding that there is sufficient information on the world-wide web, I gave up the idea.

I don’t know who arranged Nicky Gumbel’s visit to Chennai. There were many Protestant pastors present. A sizeable delegation from the International Catholic Programme for Evangelization [ICPE] had come down from Bangalore. I recall a Catholic Bishop addressing the gathering, welcoming Nicky Gumbel and his team.

I recall very little about the programme. There was a lot of mention of evangelization and reaching the Gospel to others, and that is one issue that has always grabbed my attention. I suppose that since the delegates were from across the denominational spectrum, the contents of the talks were not doctrinal. Even if there had been any aberrations, I would probably have missed them as I was not as well informed then — especially about the problems associated with a false ecumenism and the errors of Protestant teaching — as I am now.

In the prayer and ministering sessions, I found Alpha spirituality to be charismatic, and I had no problems with that either. Yes, I had not only heard of Holy Trinity Brompton and the “Toronto Blessing”, John Wimber, Rodney Howard-Browne and others whose names the reader will become familiar with in the following pages, I had read their books and watched their video tapes. I was at least a couple of years from graduating into a Catholic apologist.-Michael

INDEX [PAGE NUMBERS IN BRACKETS]

INTRODUCTION [1]

INDEX [2]

LETTER FROM AN INDIAN CATHOLIC WHO ATTENDED AN ALPHA TRAINING COURSE
[3-5]

FIRST CATHOLIC CRITIQUE OF ALPHA [3-5]

SECOND CATHOLIC CRITIQUE OF ALPHA 1.
Should ALPHA
be used in a Catholic Context? – An Analysis

by
Gillian Van Der Lande
http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha1.htm [6-10, 160]

THIRD CATHOLIC CRITIQUE OF ALPHA 2. Is ALPHA for Catholics?? by William J. Cork, D. Min.
http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha2.htm

[11-16, 160]

SECULAR AND RELIGIOUS NEWS INFORMATION ON ALPHA
[17-32]

Alpha course
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [17-18]

Which techniques does the “Alpha Course” use to brainwash people? [18]

The magnet of Alpha by Ruth Gledhill [18-23]

Making waves with hard-sell [23-24]

Religious mystery of the Alpha effect [24-25]

Alpha
‘feeds modern spiritual hunger’ [25-26]

The
Alpha Course
and Its Critics: An Overview of the Debates [26-32]

MY COMMENTS
[33]

PROTESTANT CRITIQUES OF ALPHA
[34-105]

I. The Dangers Of The Alpha Course deceptioninthechurch.com
[34-35]

Looking at – THE ALPHA COURSE by Tricia Tillin banner.org.uk
[35-41]

II. The Alpha Course by Chris Hand banner.org.uk
[41-43]

III. The Gospel According to Gumbel (the Alpha Course) by Michael J. Penfold webtruth.org
[44-47]

IV. Alpha: Another Road To Rome?
Commentary by Roger Oakland understandthetimes.org
[47-49]

V. What About the Alpha Course? by Rev. Ron Hanko cprf.co.uk
[49-50]

VI. Is the
Alpha Course
of God, or is it heresy!
by Gordon McGill revivalscotland.com
[51-53]

VII. THE ALPHA COURSE
– FINAL ANSWER OR FATAL ATTRACTION?
by G. Richard Fisher pfo.org
[53-59]

VIII. THE ALPHA COURSE – IS IT THE FINAL ANSWER OR A FATAL ATTRACTION? cephasministry.com
[60-65]

IX A. Alpha News by K. B. Napier christiandoctrine.net
[65-67]

IX B. Alpharisms by K. B. Napier christiandoctrine.net
[67-71]

X. The Alpha Course Is It Bible Based Or Hell Inspired?
by Rev. Paul Fitton regal-network.com
[71-77]

XI. Book Exposes the Illuminati “Alpha Course by Nancy Thomson benabraham.com
[77-79]

XII. HIDDEN SECRETS OF THE ALPHA COURSE [79]

XIII. THE ALPHA COURSE/ EVANGELISTIC BIBLE STUDIES wayoflife.org
[79-84]

XIV. ALPHA: New Life or New Lifestyle? by Elizabeth McDonald [85-98]

XV. Does God give us spiritual quick fixes? from
Alpha
… to Omega
abcog.org
[98-99]

XVI. Where Does The ‘Alpha
Course‘ Stand in 2009? Honestly Facing Up To The Inadequacies of ‘Alpha
by Robin A. Brace ukapologetics.net
[100-104]

XVII. – XXI. Miscellaneous links [104-105]

XXII. THE ALPHA COURSE
angelfire.com

[105-106]

TWO REVIEWS OF
ALPHA
BY “CHURCHMOUSE” [106-110]

Alpha Course: truth or error? [106-108]

Alpha‘s brand of Jesus [108-110]

CATHOLIC FUNDAMENTALIST TAKES ON ALPHA 1. ALPHA
charismatc-heresy.blogspot.com
[110-111]

CATHOLIC FUNDAMENTALIST TAKES ON ALPHA 2. ALPHA UNSCRAMBLED by Frank Calneggia [111-114]

CATHOLICS FOR ALPHA [114-117, 159, 160]

CATHOLIC PRIEST FR. JAMES MALLON DESIGNS FOLLOW UP TO THE ALPHA COURSE [114-116, 159, 160]

CATHOLIC PRIEST
FR. BENEDICT HERON OSB
EULOGISES THE
ALPHA COURSE [116-117]

MORE CATHOLIC CRITIQUES OF ALPHA [117-129]

FOURTH CATHOLIC CRITIQUE OF ALPHA [117-120]

3A. The Dangers of Protestant Material by R. J. Grigaitis S.F.O.

3B. Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha Course by R. J. Grigaitis S.F.O.

3C. Sola Scriptura by R. J. Grigaitis S.F.O.

3D. A Letter to Nicky Gumbel by R. J. Grigaitis S.F.O.

FIFTH CATHOLIC CRITIQUE OF ALPHA 4. Alpha and the ‘New Evangelization’ by Paul Likoudis [121-124]

SIXTH CATHOLIC CRITIQUE OF ALPHA 5. Bad Directions [124]

SEVENTH CATHOLIC CRITIQUE OF ALPHA 6. CATHOLIC ANSWERS FORUM catholic.com [124-129]

CATHOLIC ALPHA IN INDIA: ITS PROMOTERS. CORRESPONDENCE WITH OUR BISHOPS [129-134]

MY COMMENTS
[132-133]

EVANGELICAL CRITIQUE OF THE “TORONTO BLESSING“.
TO BE READ WITH DISCRETION [135-151]

SECULAR REPORT ON THE ALPHA CONNECTION WITH THE “TORONTO BLESSING
[151]

THREE CATHOLIC CRITIQUES OF THE “TORONTO BLESSING
[152-156]

SOMETHING INEXPLICABLE ON THE INTERNET, CATHOLIC ALPHA INDIA’S RESPONSE [156-158]

I never imagined that the Alpha course might be a problem for Catholics until I received the following email:

From:
name withheld
To:
prabhu
Sent: Thursday, March 04, 2010 8:51 AM Subject: Re: Hi

Dear Michael, Just returned from Mass.  Thank you for praying for us at Mass today.  We did not remember about the plenary indulgence.  We went for Confession last Wednesday at the Alpha course.

Do you know about it? It is an initiative of the Anglican Church to bring back members into the church. However Catholic bishops are endorsing it and using it to evangelise lapsed Catholics.  We found some disturbing errors in doctrine from the Catholic point of reference and repeatedly brought it to the notice of the course conductors (a team of Catholics from Malaysia which included some Indians), requesting them to intervene and correct the errors as they came up.  They ignored us until we got more aggressive.  Then they came down on me like a ton of bricks and finally declared that there were no errors.

I was fresh from the Steve Ray apologetics program and so I could stand my ground.  I have made a report and deliberating on whether I should send it out to all Bishops of India since the CCBI has unofficially endorsed it when it was presented at the last plenary.  Would you like to see the report? Do you think I should send it out or send it to our own Bishop first, since he brought it to the diocese and it was approved by the Centre for Lay Apostolate?

By the way, the Bishop spoke to [us] when he invited us to attend the Alpha course… name withheld

From:
name withheld
To:
prabhu
Sent: Thursday, March 04, 2010 4:57 PM Subject: Alpha course

My experience of the Alpha Training Course held at Pilar Reanimation Centre, Goa, India, 22 to 25 February 2010

1. Since this course was organised by the Archdiocese of Goa & Daman, we took it for granted that it was a Catholic programme. So even though Fr. John, the priest on the team mentioned that it originated in the Anglican church, we continued to keep an open mind. During the course of the first DVD, Nicky Gumbel, the creator of Alpha mentioned that he was a vicar (after mentioning his wife several times before that). On the next day, at tea-time I casually asked James, another Alpha team member: “What about the Anglican roots of the program?” He replied something like “it is not important, that Alpha has proven to be very effective in giving people an experience of Jesus Christ and then they experience a hunger to know more – you tell them more about the Catholic Church.” His reply convinced me that there were no grounds for worry.

2. During talk 6, Why and How should I read the Bible? Nicky argued that we need the Bible to give us guidelines and concluded that the Bible is the supreme authority for what we believe and how we act. I immediately felt disturbed hearing this. In the group discussion that followed, I shared my discomfort with my group members. I shared that I had recently returned from a seminar on [Catholic] Apologetics in Mumbai and there Steve Ray, the speaker emphatically stated that the Catholic Church stands like a 3-legged stool: Sacred Tradition, Scripture and the Magisterium. As soon as the break was announced I waited to meet Fr. John and requested him to simply clarify to all present the position of the Catholic Church on the matter. He readily agreed to do so. However this was not done.

3. That night I opened the book: Alpha: Questions of life by Nicky Gumbel which seemed to be a transcript of the DVD talks. On page 89, in the first paragraph, Nicky says that “It is very important to hold on to the fact that all Scripture is inspired by God…” Then in the last paragraph on the same page, he says: “If it is God’s word, then it must be our supreme authority for what we believe and how we act. For Jesus, it (turn to page 90) was his supreme authority – above what the church leaders of his time said… and above the opinions of others, however clever they were. Having said that we must of course give due weight to what the church leaders and others say.” (emphasis here is name withhelds)

This text confirmed my fears. On one hand Nicky twists what Jesus meant when he says that “for Jesus it was his supreme authority” The only Scripture that Jesus had access to when he was alive is the Old Testament! The books that are now in the Canon of the NT were decided almost 400 years AD by the Catholic Church. On the other hand, mere “due weight” is granted to what “church leaders” and “others” say. Will not Catholics infer “Church leaders” to mean the Pope and Bishops (Magisterium)? What about “others”? Will that include any other theologians – dissenting or otherwise? And then there is complete silence about Sacred Tradition. (emphasis here is name withhelds)

So while ALPHA teaches that Revelation is based on the Bible alone, the Holy Father John Paul II states:

“Scripture… is not the Church’s sole point of reference. The ‘supreme rule of her faith’ derives from the unity which the spirit has created between Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church in a reciprocity which means that none of these can survive without the others” (Faith and Reason 55).

So, having dealt with the Magisterium in just one sentence, from page 90 to 96 Nicky Gumbel expounds at length about how God speaks to us through his ‘rule book’ (The Bible). This gives the reader the (intended?) impression that the Bible interprets itself.

4. Now I began to skim through the book looking for further errors. In the Chapter 7, How does God Guide Us? (page 99 ff), Nicky Gumbel tells us that God guides us through Commanding Scripture (page 102), Compelling Spirit (page 103), through Common Sense (page 106), through Counsel of the Saints (page 108) (i.e. Other Christians, which could be just anybody – not necessarily the bishops or even the hierarchy), and through Circumstantial Signs (page 110).

There is absolutely NO mention of the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition in the entire chapter. (emphasis here is name withhelds)

5. In Chapter 9 What Does the Holy Spirit Do? Nicky Gumbel gives his interpretation of ‘born again’, commenting on John 3: 5-8. At the top of page 128 he states: “In the spiritual realm, when the Spirit of God and the spirit of a man or woman come together, a new spiritual being is created. There is a new birth, spiritually. This is what Jesus is speaking about when he says, ‘You must be born again‘.”

This is a misinterpretation of what the Catholic Church understands by Baptism where we are born again in Christ through ‘water and Spirit’. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states: “Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs forth.” (CCC 2101)

But elsewhere on page 205, Nicky Gumbel gives the Catholic Sacrament of Baptism just three sentences: “Baptism is a visible mark of being a member of the church. It is also a visible sign of what it means to be a Christian. It signifies cleansing from sin, dying and rising with Christ to a new life and the living water which the Holy Spirit brings to our lives. Jesus himself commanded his followers to go and make disciples and to baptise them.”

On the other hand, CCC states: “The Church does not know of any other means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude, this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are reborn of water and the Spirit.” (CCC 1129)

6. How does Nicky Gumbel treat the subject of the Church?

On page 205, Nicky Gumbel clubs all churches together saying: “The universal Christian church is vast.” On page 207 he rightly states that “We all belong to one family. Although brothers and sisters may squabble and fall out or not see each other for long periods of time, they still remain brothers and sisters.” But, he declares, “The church is one, even though it often appears to be divided.”

The reality is that it does not just ‘appear’ to be divided, it IS divided and scandalously so (some estimate the number of Protestant sects to be around 30,000!)

Again he goes on to say: “The incarnation demands a visible expression of our invisible unity.” Of course it does! In John 17: 23, Jesus says: “…that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me….” How can the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations ever be seen as a unity?

7. How does Nicky Gumbel treat the Sacrament of the Eucharist?

On page 214, he quotes Hebrews 9:26: Jesus ‘appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself’ and concludes that we do not need to make further sacrifices for our sins. He says: “Rather, we need to be constantly reminded of his sacrifice for us.”

Here he stops short of saying that the sacrifice of the Mass is unnecessary. It seems to be said implicitly.

Further he says that the bread and wine remind us of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Also, “Drinking from one cup and eating the one loaf symbolises our unity in Christ. (emphasis here is name withhelds).

On page 215: “The bread and wine represent the body and blood of Jesus. Jesus promised to be with us by his Spirit after his death, and especially wherever Christians meet together…”

It is very obvious that Nicky Gumbel carefully steers clear of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. This is understandable coming from a staunch Protestant. But we cannot expect to hear such heresy in a Catholic setting and still remain mute.

8. On Wednesday night, during the last session, I expressed my concern that the Alpha course is continuing to present a Bible-alone picture of Christianity and that the Magisterium and Sacraments are not mentioned at all. Fr. John replied that it is not possible to convey everything in the Alpha course and that the Catholic context would be presented on the next, the last day. After the session, a visibly agitated Caroline
Soon approached me to tell me that the Alpha course is very focused on the Kerygma and that everything is put right from the Catholic perspective in the Post Alpha programme that they have been conducting in various parishes in Malaysia, i.e. AFTER the standard Alpha programme. I asked her if it is Alpha policy that nothing can be changed in the programme. She did not answer my question but assured me that the Catholic Church is very rich [in theology and truth] and we do not need to learn anything from the Protestants. However, she said that the Alpha program is working wonders. I expressed my fear that nominal Catholics who experience the full Alpha course may move right into the Protestant Church and she denied the possibility saying that since we would be giving the program in a Catholic church it was up to us to lead them deeper into the Catholic Church. I did not want to argue any further so I told her that I would take her word for it.

But when we returned that night to check our email, I was inspired to put in a search on the Web for Alpha in the Catholic context. I was shocked to find at least 2 articles questioning many of the same errors I had noticed and many others which I had not. They expressed the same fears that I had, that once errors are stated as if they were Gospel truths and they were neither challenged nor corrected they would sink in as if with the blessings of the Catholic Church. I am attaching both the articles for your reference.

I also saw publicity material on the Net that promoted Alpha in the Catholic context by quoting endorsements of Alpha by prominent Cardinals, Bishops and even Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope’s personal preacher. They even had a photograph of Nicky Gumbel shaking hands with Pope John Paul II. Not surprisingly this last item has infuriated mainline Protestant church leaders to speculate that Nicky Gumbel had made a secret agreement with the Pope to bring in droves of Protestants into the Catholic Church through Alpha. They opine that Nicky Gumbel, in trying to make his doctrine acceptable to all “denominations” (the Catholic Church is considered as one of the denominations of Christian churches) from the Catholic Church to the Salvation Army had watered down all the deep doctrinal differences between the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches.

9. When we sat for the first session on Thursday morning, Fr. John gave me a glossy brochure to read which quoted all the Bishops and Cardinals mentioned above with even a picture of Pope John Paul II with Nicky Gumbel. The back cover of the brochure stated that Caroline Soon was the Coordinator of Alpha in the Catholic context for the Asia-Pacific region. However I had already seen most of the contents on the night before on the Web.

10. During the tea break I told James of the Alpha team that I was quite disturbed about the uncorrected errors in the Alpha program and that I would like to speak privately with the Alpha team rather than speak out publicly. At the next session, James came up to me and said that he had discussed the matter with Fr. John and that he preferred that I bring up the matter in public so that he could clarify any doubts that other participants may have. I was hesitant to do so, but he insisted and promised to make time for this.

11. Before lunch, they gave me an opportunity to speak. They allowed me to state all the points which had disturbed me.

I expressed that we should have been explicitly told that Alpha was a Protestant program and that we should see it in that light especially when it came to points that differed with Catholic doctrine.

Secondly if any errors came up, they should have been corrected immediately after they had been made. I listed all the errors that I had noticed. At one point when I requested the participants to tell me whether they believed that the Bible was “the supreme authority”, Fr. John stopped me from polling the participants. I mentioned that Nicky Gumbel had said in the DVD that the Bible is the supreme authority. Fr. John asked whether he had said sola scriptura is the supreme authority. I repeated that he had said that the Bible is the supreme authority but by his silence on the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition he had said sola scriptura by inference.

After I had finished speaking he proceeded to discredit me by mentioning the names of all the Bishops and Cardinals, Fr. Cantalamessa and others including CCBI plenary that had given very positive endorsements of Alpha. He also said that we should all be ecumenical and Alpha was an excellent vehicle for this. Fr. John also said that the Bible IS the supreme authority and all our Church leaders interpret from the Bible. At one point, Fr. Daniel came up and said that he and Fr. Anthony had checked out the Alpha program before approving it. He also made a statement that revelation is not the monopoly of the Catholic Church – which I did not understand. Fr. John categorically stated: “There are no doctrinal errors in the Alpha course.” But he informed that in the Post Alpha programme, participants are informed of the availability of Catholic apologetic programs by authors like Scott Hahn, Fr. John Corapi, Steve Ray, etc. I cannot remember the rest of what they said because I was feeling quite dazed even though I had expected to be publicly discredited.

12. Sometime later Fr. Daniel called me privately to check with me whether Nicky had used the word sola scriptura. He also admitted that they had received the written material just 3 days before the course began and had no time to go through them. They had only received the DVDs before the course on the basis of which they had approved the Alpha course.

He assured me that the Centre does not want to introduce a new program in the Diocese and that only the best components of the Alpha course would be used in the Diocese strictly under the close supervision of the Lay Apostolate Centre. He also affirmed me and expressed that he was glad that I was present at the course to keep a check on errors.

At the last session, Fr. John apologized for not making sure that we knew that it was a Protestant program. He however said nothing about correcting errors – naturally – because according to him there are NO errors.

Enclosures:

Should ALPHA be used in a Catholic Context? – An analysis, by Gillian Van der Lande
www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha1.htm*

Is ALPHA for Catholics? by William J. Cork, D. Min.

www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha2.htm**

NOTE:
http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/index.html
Faithful and obedient to the Holy Father and the Magisterium

*1. Should ALPHA
be used in a Catholic Context? – An Analysis

by
Gillian Van Der Lande


www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha1.htm
1999

As a Catholic who has participated in full in an ALPHA Course in a Catholic parish and who has viewed, read and studied the ALPHA Course materials, my short answer to the above question is an unequivocal “No.”

The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, by commission and omission, the ALPHA material proposes an ecclesiology and a sacramental theology, contrary in essence to the teaching of the Church.

Secondly, the underlying principle of the methodology used in the small group discussions held after each of the 15 ALPHA video sessions, acts against the principle of religious freedom upheld by the Church. The questions are formatted in such a way as to elicit responses from subjective criteria alone. This does not respect and protect the right of participants to freely answer and clarify points from the objective criteria of the Church’s teaching when the need arises. Thus, in effect, it silences that teaching and encourages the ALPHA ‘magisterium’ to stand, develop and be absorbed. The purpose of this analysis is to show how and why I came to this conclusion.

ALPHA SOURCES

A few years ago my attention was drawn to a notice in a local shop window inviting people of all denominations or none to join an ALPHA group to learn more about the Christian faith. Always interested in ecumenism, I signed on but due to unforeseen circumstances I was unable to attend any of the evenings.

A short time later I attended a day of adult catechesis in my diocese. ALPHA was heavily promoted in one of the talks given by a Catholic priest. He praised in an unequivocal way this evangelizing process initiated by the Evangelical wing of the Church of England and from Holy Trinity Brompton. He placed a strong and sensational emphasis on the weekend or day away which covered the Person and work of the Holy Spirit and focused in particular on the surprise turns that it could take. This caused me some disquiet which I voiced at the time.

Thus, when I learnt that we were to have ALPHA in a local parish I decided to take part in the Course in full.

I felt it necessary to do some thorough background reading on the key ALPHA Course literature Questions of Life by the Rev. Nicky Gumbel, the ALPHA presenter.

The Course is based on this book and participants at the ALPHA Conferences laid on by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal were encouraged to read it as pre-conference preparation.

Not one of the leaders or helpers of ALPHA in this parish had read the book prior to the start of the Course, some appeared to have no knowledge of it, and this included the parish priest. I lent them copies of the same after the first ALPHA session. I also viewed the ALPHA leaders Training video and read other Course books.

In addition, I contacted the Catholic ALPHA Office which was set up to promote “the ALPHA course within the Catholic Church” by assisting “the situating of the ALPHA course within a Catholic parish or Organisation”. [ALPHA for Catholics? Catholic ALPHA Office page 6].

I did this as I was curious to see how this Protestant Evangelical Course could be used in a Catholic context without undermining the teachings of the Church; without misleading those who, in good faith, had chosen to follow ALPHA in a Catholic context in order to learn more of the basics of the Christian Faith from the Catholic perspective.

The Catholic Office sent me ALPHA in a Catholic Context, a tape of The ALPHA Conference held at Westminster Cathedral Hall in September 1997 under the initiative of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. “The Conferences are designed for leaders and leadership Teams” [Catholic Conference leaflet]. I was also sent the Post ALPHA Catholic Teaching [PACT] audio cassette which is designed, as is the video, to “provide a pointer to the further riches of the Catholic faith, particularly RCIA” [Catholic Gazette article, ALPHA in a Catholic Context].

The PACT tape and video, comprising two talks, begins with unequivocal support and praise of ALPHA as a starting point. In the first talk – ‘Why should I listen to the Church?’ – Charles Whitehead, the first speaker, calls it “a wonderful course.” ALPHA is the starting point.

As ALPHA for Catholics? [AfC?] puts it: “ALPHA does not claim to be a total Christian formation. It is a launching pad. It presupposes further formation to follow” [page 15].

The PACT tapes do not clarify and thus correct any errors as regards the Church’s teaching put forward in the ALPHA tapes. The errors absorbed after 10 weeks of ALPHA teaching of 15 video sessions are therefore allowed to stand with the apparent blessing of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Gazette calls ALPHA a “pre-catechetical course” and AfC? states that “it looks at some of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith” [page 5]
– but this is just not true. ALPHA goes beyond the basic proclamation of who Jesus Christ was and is and basic doctrine. It proposes an ecclesiology and sacramental theology that are not in accord with and contrary in essence to the Church’s teaching on a variety of fundamental doctrinal truths.

ALPHA ECCLESIOLOGY

For example ALPHA teaches that Revelation is based on the Bible alone. As the Holy Father states:

“Scripture… is not the Church’s sole point of reference. The ‘supreme rule of her faith’ derives from the unity which the spirit has created between Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church in a reciprocity which means that none of the three can survive without the others” [Faith and Reason 55].

ALPHA’s understanding of “church” is reduced to “simply a gathering of Christians who get together to worship God, to hear what God is saying to them, to encourage one another and to make friends. It should be a very exciting place to be!” [Why
Jesus, Nicky Gumbel, page 21].

Thus, ALPHA’s understanding of “Universal Church” is of an amalgamation, a sum total, of all who believe in Christ that consists of all those world wide who profess the name of Christ” [Questions of Life, Nicky
Gumbel, page 221].

Quite understandably, as ALPHA is an Evangelical programme, the Roman Catholic Church is referred to as one of many Christian denominations. However, the context in which it is referred to, along with other named denominations, implies that to link an understanding of the term “Church” to any one particular denominational church is understandable but an image that should be buried [Questions of Life, page 220] and that “many Christians are seeking to bury … as it is wholly inadequate when compared to the picture of the church in the New Testament” (ibid).

Nicky Gumbel drives this message home in a strong way, and thus promotes his idea of a “universal church”, when he says in his video presentation How can I be filled with
the Spirit?: “No-one cares anymore what denominations we are, because we are one in Christ. Nobody cares tuppence. All that matters is that we know and love Christ, we are Christians. There is a unity of the Spirit. What matters is our relationship with God. Our unity in Spirit.”

The Catholic Church, on the contrary, teaches the necessity of a unity of Faith.
Nicky Gumbel’s vision confines itself to a unity of spirit based on belief in Christ alone.

ALPHA METHODOLOGY

It must be remembered that ALPHA is copyrighted. AfC? reminds us of this when it states: “Catholic ALPHA uses the ALPHA course as it stands…” [page 6]. The underlining is as printed. Therefore it has to be used in its integrity. Indeed two of the priest speakers at the Catholic ALPHA Conference, although they recognised that the course had its weaknesses from the Catholic perspective, still chose to advocate that ALPHA be used in its integrity in Catholic parishes.

AfC? continues to do the same. It recognises its deficiencies yet still continues to advocate its use.

It states: “On the question of Sacraments, ALPHA is seriously deficient from a Catholic point of view. There is only recognition of Baptism and the Eucharist explicitly” [page 7]. It recognises also that ALPHA’s teaching on these two Sacraments is based on the lowest common denominator approach of what will be found acceptable by the majority of major Christian denominations and traditions.

It quotes Nicky Gumbel: “Teaching on the sacraments is limited, in the sense that we only teach on ALPHA what all the major denominations and traditions are agreed about,” aware “that some denominations would want to add more” [pages 17-18]. This results in no clear understanding being given of the nature of a sacrament in the first place, as being instituted by Christ and as communicating grace. The key book Questions of Life by Nicky Gumbel is recommended as course reading. It contains all these errors and many more written in a plausible and readable style. This unqualified recommendation, in itself, reinforces this Protestant teaching as being acceptable.

Unless error is corrected at the time when ALPHA is used in a Catholic context, the error stands and, inevitably, is absorbed by some present. That then becomes the launching pad for that person. That, in my experience, is what happened on the ALPHA Course I attended. The errors were left to stand and the methodology laid down in the Team Training Manual for the leaders and helpers of the small groups ensured that they did.

The method of discussion used was based on subjective criteria. Two basic questions – ‘What do you think?’ and ‘What do you
feel?’ – formatted and controlled the way the discussions went in such a way as to preclude objective discussion from the criterion of the Church’s teachings. My experience was of received hostility to any form of clarification and defence of the Church’s teaching in relation to the teaching proposed by Nicky Gumbel, a teaching that was not Catholic in essence. Such a clarification and defence was labelled “negative”. This would seem to deny the principle of religious freedom upheld by the Church.
It is of great concern that ALPHA should introduce such methodology into any parish, let alone a Catholic parish.

ALPHA – SACRAMENTAL THEOLOGY

To return to the catechetical content of ALPHA: “Local Church” is understood in 3 ways, in terms of ‘celebration’ – large gathering of Christians, ‘congregation’- medium sized gathering and ‘cell’ – small group, BUT NOT, as in Catholic teaching, as a segment of the Church under a Bishop’s authority [Questions
Of Life, page 222].

ALPHA recognises only one priesthood, “The priesthood of all believers” [ibid, page 230]. The priest is understood merely as an “elder”, “a leader in the church” but one who “is not a sacrificing priest”. Thus, it follows, that the ‘Eucharist’ is understood solely as ‘the Lord’s Supper’ when “we remember his sacrifice with thanksgiving and partake of its benefits” but not as a holy sacrifice as in Catholic teaching. The explanation of this thinking is that “now Jesus, our great high priest (hiereus), has made the supreme sacrifice of his own life on our behalf. No further sacrifices are necessary and no further priests are necessary” [ibid, page 229]. This, of course, is contrary in essence to the Church’s teaching.

As regards the Sacrament of Baptism, it is regarded as being a visible mark of being “a member of the Church” and “a visible sign of what it means to be a Christian” in that “it signifies cleansing from sin, dying and rising with Christ to a new life and the living water which the Holy Spirit brings to our lives” [Questions of life, page 221]. ALPHA teaching understands Baptism in terms of a Church membership ritual alone that does not confer but rather confirms something that has already taken place. I say this in that ALPHA understands that the Holy Spirit is received prior to Baptism when a person commits him or herself publicly to Christ and hands are laid on them, by committed Christians, ALPHA leaders, lay or clerical, to invoke the coming down of the Holy Spirit.

ALPHA’S ALIEN ‘SPIRIT’

There is a strong emphasis placed on speaking in tongues. People are told to pray and ask for this gift according to a certain format. “Open your mouth and start to praise God in any language but English or any other language known to you” and “Believe that what you receive is from God. Don’t let anyone tell you that you made it up” [ibid, page 147]. The leaders on the ALPHA weekends are asked to pray for people to receive the gift of tongues “not because it is the most important gift but because the ALPHA course is a beginner’s course and the gift of tongues is (considered a) beginner’s gift… Both in the Bible and in experience it is often the first obviously supernatural gift of the Spirit which people receive” [Telling Others, Nicky Gumbel, page 129].

I attended the Course ‘ALPHA Day in the Spirit’. After the three video sessions, lunch and two small group discussion sessions we were invited to be prayed over by the ALPHA leaders and helpers. I am afraid I sought sanctuary in the church at that point, so sickened was I at the sight of lay leaders advancing to pray over others, rub their backs and cradle their heads. I do not know therefore if anyone received the gift of speaking in tongues and whether this was facilitated by the leaders or not. I returned to find another fugitive who was a convert from a Pentecostal Church in America. She was sickened too, having left that form of Church to join the Catholic Church. She did not return to complete the ALPHA Course. That day of the Holy Spirit did not begin with Mass even though the parish priest was a helper. It did not even include a visit to the church of the venue, a shrine dedicated to Our Lady. We did not even pray the Hail Mary, but of course Our Lady is not part of ALPHA and there is implicit rejection in ALPHA of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.

ALPHA: CONTRARY TO THE FAITH AND REASON

In short, ALPHA is not Catholic.

As a Catholic I am stunned that it can be promoted for use in Catholic parishes in such a way in leaflet handouts and advertisements in the Catholic press, as to give the impression that there is nothing in it that is contrary to the Church’s teaching. I am still more surprised that the Catholic ALPHA Office can promote its use in its integrity in Catholic parishes and recommend its literature when it recognises publicly, in print, that it is deficient – at least as regards sacramental theology – from a Catholic perspective. Those who in good faith come to a Catholic parish to gain a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith via a basic understanding of Christ will be sadly short-changed, albeit that they may receive a warm welcome and have an enjoyable evening and a good supper. One wonders whether participants are fully aware of the overall purpose underlying the ALPHA method, and whether they would be so keen to participate if they did.

The overall purpose of the small group discussion, according to the ALPHA Team Training Manual is “to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ” [page 1] through friendship with Christians. This is considered “the main reason why people stay in the church” [page 6]. The purpose of the small groups is to help newcomers to experience Christian community and absorb the beginning of “a community orientation” [videotape 3a].

The numbers flocking to ALPHA clearly indicate that many are seeking and yearning to know more about Christian teaching. The ALPHA format of supper, video and discussion is undoubtedly a good idea. The ALPHA videos are professional and the Rev. Nicky Gumbel comes across as being sincere in his beliefs and is a charismatic figure.

The PACT videos contrast badly by comparison. This certainly does little to get across what Catholic teaching is contained therein. It is unavoidable that they appear to be ‘tacked on’ to a Protestant message because the ALPHA message – which offers a different understanding of key terms such as the Church, the local Church, the Universal Church, Tradition, the Sacraments, the Eucharist, the priesthood and omits the Mother of God, to name but a few key teachings – is left to stand, unqualified, in its integrity, and be used as a launching pad for the Catholic message.

This leaves a difficult task to the two key speakers on the PACT tapes. In brief, in the video Why should I listen to the
Church?, lack of clarification over the understanding of what is understood by the “Church” leads to a watered-down understanding of the Catholic Church: described as “a teaching church” which “says that it has authority to teach and to take us on in the Christian life”, as “Your” (Christ’s) “teaching church”. It sounds like another point of view, another opinion.

In turn, in the video Why bother going to Mass?, lack of clarification of the meaning of a ‘Sacrament’ leaves standing the ALPHA omission of the Sacraments as communicating grace. There is one brief mention and listing of the seven sacraments in name only, given in rather an offhand way in that the priest speaker appears to momentarily forget some of the seven in a jocular fashion. The principal focus of the talk is the Eucharist. It is a pity that the misunderstandings about the priesthood in the ALPHA talks are not set right in this talk. This results in the few words spoken on the Consecration failing to convey clearly how transubstantiation is confected: “So, in the Mass, the priest acts in the name of Jesus. He takes the bread and wine as Jesus did in the Last Supper, they call this part of the Mass, the Offertory …. then he gives thanks for them, as I said Jesus did, and he blesses them in a special prayer which we call the Eucharistic Prayer. The heart of the Eucharistic Prayer is a very special moment which Catholics call the Consecration. The moment when we believe that the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ.”

It is a fact that ALPHA’s teachings are to a great degree contrary in essence to the teachings of the Church in fundamental respects and that ALPHA’s methodology silences the truths of the Catholic Church. As a Catholic one is thus forced to ask questions:

How is it that there are those in the Church who choose to use ALPHA in the name of the Church in a Catholic parish?

How is it that material containing such error can be used with equanimity by those concerned?

Is it not a serious matter that the faithful’s understanding of the Faith will be endangered and confused and those seeking to know the Catholic Faith misled?

Is it not a serious matter that Catholics are unable to freely uphold the teachings of the Church in their own Catholic parishes?

One can only reflect on how contrary all of this is to the Church’s teaching on the principles of Evangelisation and on catechesis itself, not to mention the Holy Father’s teachings in his latest encyclical Faith and Reason.

And one is left to wonder how so many Catholics, clerical and lay, can so readily take ALPHA on board.

APPENDIX

THE RCIA CONNECTION

The Catholic ALPHA Office states in its ‘ALPHA for Catholics?’ that

ALPHA

– provides an effective tool for evangelisation

– helps to reach the unchurched and the lapsed

– feeds RCIA and other programmes

PACT is seen to “provide a bridge between ALPHA and the RCIA process” (page 7): a lead in. RCIA is understood as “the next step”, “the way to join the Catholic community/Church” (page 25), while ‘Evangelisation’ is separated from ‘catechesis’.

In view of all this and since ALPHA is being proposed as the fundamental launching pad, some brief clarifying points about RCIA are in order.

The Second Vatican Council decreed that the catechumenate, a period of appropriate formation for unbaptised adults in several stages, should be restored. RCIA, the new Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, was approved by Pope Paul VI in 1971. It comprises liturgical rites to be celebrated at various times to sanctify the period of the catechumenate and give spiritual succour to the catechumens.

However, RCIA is also understood in a wider sense by many. It is understood in terms of an umbrella pastoral strategy surrounding the reception of adults into the Church which enables whole parish communities to become actively aware of the evangelising mission of the Church at the personal level and as a unified community.

To this end, a mountain of RCIA literature has been written and circulated and, in many instances, RCIA has come to represent a certain content and method of catechesis in itself – which, in many cases, does not conform with the norms laid down in The General Directory for Catechesis and the content and clear language laid down in The Catechism of The
Catholic Church.

The result is that what should be a period of catechesis to learn more about the Church and the Faith of the Church – a period of personal growth in faith strengthened by prayer, reflection and sacramental rites – becomes instead, in many instances, an absorption into a particular ‘vision’ of the Church or ‘a church community’ and a formation according to that community.

RCIA cannot, therefore, be relied upon to set right the flawed foundation begun by ALPHA.

The choice of catechetical material for the catechumenate period of RCIA is dependent on diocesan authorities and parish priests. This may or may not conform in total to the content and principles of catechesis laid down by the Magisterium of the Church. Some of this material appears to continue the ecclesiology and sacramental and other theology proposed by ALPHA.

To leave you with one example, typical of many, if we look at the understanding of ‘a sacrament’ in the key RCIA book in one diocese: Focus on Faith, a resource for the journey into the Catholic Church by Deborah Jones (without imprimatur), we learn on page 76 that:

‘A sacrament is a festive action in which Christians assemble to celebrate their lived experience and to call to heart their common story. The action is a symbol of God’s care for us in Christ. Enacting the symbol brings us closer to one another in the Church and the Lord who is there for us.’ (Tad Guzie)

Could you understand from this, if you did not know, that the Sacraments were instituted by Christ, that they communicate grace to the recipient, the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ to heal and transform them? Could you understand that the Sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) that make present efficaciously the grace that they signify? I think not.

A combination of this type of catechesis from the launching
pad of ALPHA cannot be what the Church’s call for
evangelisation is asking of us
as Catholics. In short, it cannot
be
right.

Commentary by Rod Pead (UK) in January 1999

http://www.christianorder.com/features/features_1999/features_jan99.html

The latest in the long line of New Age/Protestant trojan horses to be wheeled into Catholic parishes with episcopal blessing is ALPHA.

Zealous in its application of commercial principles to feel-good evangelisation, ALPHA is big business – built on copyrights, target figures, line charts and multi-million pound advertising campaigns. It emerged from Holy Trinity Brompton [HTB], an Anglican church behind the Brompton Oratory in London. In recent years this church has ventured to the furthest edge of the charismatic movement in its promotion of the Toronto Blessing
– a so-called Baptism of the Holy Spirit which induces hysterical, animal-like behaviour (uncontrolled laughter, shaking, gibberish, grunting, howling etc.) among congregations. Mr. Nicky Gumbel, who introduced this alien ‘spirit’ into England via HTB in 1994, is the prime mover behind ALPHA: “I believe it is no coincidence,” he stated in May 1995, “that the present movement of the Holy Spirit [Toronto Blessing] has come at the same time as the explosion of the ALPHA Course. I think the two go together.”

One would have thought this connection alone sufficient to alert Catholic bishops and priests to keep their distance from ALPHA; to dissuade them from flirting with “angels of light” [2 Corinthians 11:13-15]. Alas, such is their general loss of faith and blind panic at the massive yearly decline in the Catholic population that our Shepherds have rolled out the red carpet instead. Bishop Ambrose Griffiths of Hexham and Newcastle, who says that church attendance in his diocese “has been going down on a straight line graph for the last 25 years,” has embraced ALPHA with uncanny zeal. Cardinal Hume, too, gave his blessing and personal message of encouragement to the 450 priests and laity who attended an ALPHA instruction course at Westminster Cathedral Hall in May 1997, conducted by Sandy Millar and Nicky Gumbel of HTB. The Cardinal claims to know people who have been helped by ALPHA – apparently oblivious to the many ‘apparitions’ and programmes like RENEW that promote serious error but claim “conversions.”

“I am sure it will be of great benefit to the Church’s mission,” Bishop David Konstant has prophesied of ALPHA. “It doesn’t contain anything that is contrary to Catholic doctrine,” states Bishop Griffiths. After reading Mrs. van der Lande’s objective analysis of an ALPHA course in a Catholic parish, readers may consider “hirelings” too complimentary a label for such Shepherds.

2. Is ALPHA for Catholics??
by William J. Cork, D. Min.     

www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha2.htm
2007

Original article located at http://www.wquercus.com/alpha.htm. Reprinted by permission

One of the fastest growing evangelization programs in Evangelical and Charismatic Protestant circles these days is the “Alpha Course,” developed over 20 years ago at a charismatic Anglican parish in London, Holy Trinity Brompton, and currently directed by Nicky Gumbel. It has been promoted to Catholics in the United States for six years by ChristLife Catholic Evangelization Services in Baltimore, which claims that “hundreds of Catholic parishes” are now using it. The purpose of this paper is to describe the process and content of the Alpha Course, and to evaluate whether Alpha, either in its original form or in the “Alpha for Catholics” model, should be recommended to Catholic parishes looking for evangelization tools.

What Is Alpha?

Alpha presents itself as “a basic introductory course to the Christian faith.” According to the ChristLife website, it

-provides a clear and non-threatening way to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people from all walks of life

-helps lead people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, within the context of the parish

-is ecumenical in that it covers the basic Christian truths shared by all traditions

-may be the most effective form of direct evangelization in common use today.[1]

The program consists of ten weekly meetings including a meal, a talk, and small group reflection; there is also a retreat and a celebration dinner, which serves as the introduction for the next cycle of the course.

Outline of the Alpha Course

Alpha Dinner: Christianity: Boring, Untrue, and Irrelevant?

1. Who Is Jesus

2. Did Jesus Die?

3. How Can I Be Sure of My Faith?

4. Why and How Should I Read the Bible?

5. Why and How Do I Pray?

6. How Does God Guide Us?

WEEKEND RETREAT

Who Is the Holy Spirit?

What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

How Can I Be Filled with the Spirit? (followed by prayer for “the gift of tongues”)

How Can I Make the Most of the Rest of My Life? (followed by a “Communion” service)

7. How Can I Resist Evil?

8. Why and How Should We Tell Others?

9. Does God Heal Today? (small group time replaced by a “practical healing session.”)

10. What About the Church?

Alpha Dinner: Christianity: Boring, Untrue, and Irrelevant?[2]

Alpha claims that there are currently 5000 courses being offered around the world. The Alpha webpage lists over 60 sites in the counties covered by the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, sponsored by churches of diverse background: Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Vineyard, Disciples, Foursquare, and three Catholic parishes.[3]

The Houston Catholic parishes hosting Alpha use “Alpha for Catholics,” as developed by ChristLife and a Catholic Alpha Office in the UK. This is not a Catholic adaptation of the Protestant program, but is the Protestant program with Catholic teaching presented afterwards as a supplement. As the British office says, “Catholic Alpha uses the Alpha course as it stands, but recognizes that for Catholics, and those wishing to become Catholics, much more teaching is needed after Alpha. Courses such as Exploring the Catholic Church and Drink from the Wells of the Church may be used as the first step in the sharing of specifically Catholic teaching.”[4]

The basic thrust of Alpha is to communicate the essentials of the Christian faith, with its understanding of God the Father, of Jesus Christ, his incarnation, death and resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the historic faith expressed in the ancient creeds. Alpha is, therefore, compatible with Catholic teaching, but does not address the role of the Catholic Church in the proclamation of the gospel or in its teaching on the sacraments. In addition, the current teaching is deficient with respect to Catholic ecclesiology.[5]

The question of the sacraments receives a fuller response further on. “On the question of sacraments, Alpha is seriously deficient from a Catholic point of view. Only Baptism and the Eucharist are recognized explicitly.” They quote Nicky Gumbel as saying, “Teaching on the sacraments is limited, in the sense that we only teach on Alpha what all the major denominations and traditions are agreed about.”[6]

This has led to criticism that “the Catholic bits [are] just tacked on to a Protestant message.”

The Catholic advocates of Alpha reject this characterization. “What some see as the tacking on of Catholic convictions as an after-thought can be seen by others as preaching the basic Gospel kerygma followed by an introduction to the fullness of Christian faith.”[7] They urge us to see that this is a “polished and refined”[8] program that has been tested, and is successful. Rather than taking what someone else has developed and making it into something else, “Is it not wiser, more Christian, and more ecumenical to accept gratefully the grace of God in Alpha from our Anglican brothers and sisters and supplement it with full Catholic teaching?”[9]

Despite that attempt at a response, the question remains: Can Catholic evangelization really be done in such a way that certain items distinctive to Catholicism can be somehow detached from what Evangelical Protestants believe to be “the basic Christian truths”?

We must also look at the specific content of the Alpha program itself. As we have seen, ChristLife claims that in its presentation of these “basic Christian truths,” “Alpha is compatible with Catholic teaching.” The UK Catholic Alpha Office says, “Catholics who have read the Alpha material have found it to be remarkably free from anything, which we might object to.” Are these claims valid?

Evaluation of Alpha

An evaluation of Alpha materials reveals that Alpha does not offer simply “basic Christian truths” common to all, but presents specific teachings on the Church, the Sacraments, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that constitute the theology of the Charismatic Protestantism which gave birth to Alpha.

An Individualistic Christianity.
Alpha presents a gospel which is reduced to “me and Jesus,” and the Church becomes merely a gathering of people who have come to faith in Christ. The order of the Course speaks volumes. First the individual believes in Jesus, then he reads the Bible, prays, is filled with the Holy Spirit, is encouraged to speak in tongues, is given Communion, told to resist evil, learns about and experiences faith healing and
only then does the Alpha Course mention the Church!

A Congregationalist Ecclesiology.
Gumbel presents the Church as a “three-tier structure of celebration, congregation, and cell.” The “celebration” is the Sunday gathering. What he calls the “congregation” is a more intimate setting in which it is “possible to know most people and be known by most. It is a place where lasting Christian friendships can be made. It is also a place where the gifts and ministries of the Spirit can be exercised in an atmosphere of love and acceptance, where people are free to risk making mistakes. The congregation is a place where individuals can learn, for example, to give talks, lead worship, pray for the sick, develop the gift of prophecy, and pray out loud.” The third level, or “cell,” is “the small group.”

The universal Church in this schema is simply the sum total of congregations and individuals who claim the name of Christian.[10]

An Evangelical Perspective on the Sacraments. In its effort to present only what “all agree on,” Alpha leaves out five sacraments. And what it says about the remaining two is still problematic. In Questions of Life,
Baptism is mentioned in only one small paragraph which emphasizes that it is “a visible mark of being a member of the church.” “It signifies [emphasis added] cleansing from sin (1 Corinthians 6:11), dying and rising with Christ to a new life (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12), and the living water that the Holy Spirit brings to our lives (1 Corinthians 12:13).”[11]

The Eucharist is presented in Reformed terms as a reminder of a past event, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. It is also said to be an anticipation of heaven, a reminder of the unity of the Christians gathered, and a “look up” to Jesus, who is present “by His Spirit.”

Gumbel specifically rejects a sacrificial understanding of Eucharist in his discussion of the “priesthood of all believers.”
Christian leaders may be called “priests,” but “not a sacrificing priest.”[12]

Significantly,
“Holy Communion” is separated entirely from Church membership. Alpha is said to be evangelization of the unchurched, and Catholics are told to consider it as “precatechumenate,” yet the weekend retreat (held about halfway through the course), is to conclude with “Communion” (and this before either the Church or Sacraments are ever mentioned in the course).[13]

The process is described by Nicky Gumbel:

“After the break we sing a song of praise. We have an offering which covers the cost of those who could not afford to pay for all or part of the weekend. I then explain the communion service (along the lines of Questions of Life, pages 228-229). This is a good opportunity to teach about the central service of the Christian faith. We then invite anyone who knows and loves Jesus Christ to receive Communion, should they wish, regardless of their denomination or background. We pass round the bread and drink, asking those who do not wish to receive it for some reason to pass it on to their neighbor. Many comment on the beautiful simplicity and unity in this, and some experience God’s love for the first time as they relax and receive Communion.”[14]

A Charismatic Agenda.
If we compare the amount of space given to different topics, we see that Alpha is not interested in giving “common Christian teaching” but is in fact advancing a specific theological agenda. Contrasting the one small paragraph on Baptism, and the two pages on “Holy Communion,” with the eight pages on “speaking in tongues”[15] and sixteen pages on “healing,”[16] we get a truer sense of what Alpha is about. Though Gumbel says not all have to speak in tongues, he encourages people to ask for it, and then to start speaking, starting with a limited vocabulary and developing the “prayer” “language.”[17] The extensive chapter on healing presents the distinctive claims of the “signs and wonders” school of thought associated with John Wimber. Recall that these chapters precede mention of the Church (understood in a congregationalist way) or the sacraments (reduced to two, and understood in an Evangelical way). Recall as well that Catholics are told that “denominational distinctives” must be left out of Alpha, which only wants to present “common Christian teaching.” Clearly the claim is false.

An Anglican Criticism

As mentioned out the outset, Alpha was developed by a parish of the Church of England, Holy Trinity Brompton in London. From Anglicanism, it has spread to other Christian groups. Yet one of the first detailed criticisms of the course came from an Anglican source, an M.A. dissertation written by Rev. Mark Ireland, Diocesan Missioner for the Diocese of Lichfield, in the year 2000. Ireland questioned the 426 parishes in the diocese about the evangelization programs they were using, and then his Bishop followed up with a letter to the parishes which used Alpha, asking if they had any concerns. “The main theological areas of concern centred on lack of teaching on the sacraments, social ethics and the resurrection, and the perceived over-emphasis on tongues, physical healing and substitutionary atonement.” These issues were then raised in a meeting between Ireland and the Area Bishop of Shrewsbury with Sandy Millar and Nicky Gumbel at Holy Trinity Brompton.[18]

The greatest concern voiced by the Anglicans who replied was the lack of adequate teaching on the sacraments. The Area Bishop of Stafford commented, “There is a danger I believe that a fairly minimalist understanding of the Eucharist in the Alpha material I have seen (but not used) is somewhat restrictive of one of the greatest well-springs of Christian spirituality and experience. And it was (is) the memorial that the Lord gave of His Passion (as St. Paul says!).” Gumbel and Millar gave no ground on the objection. Gumbel ducked the question by noting that Alpha is used “by both Roman Catholics and the Salvation Army, whose understanding of the sacraments differs totally,” and that “we should rejoice” in this. “What is written about baptism and holy communion in Questions of Life has been carefully scripted to enable as far as possible Roman Catholics, Baptists and the Salvation Army to all feel comfortable using it.” And Millar emphasized that those who want to add their own teachings, are free to do so afterwards.[19]

Another concern was the emphasis on tongues and this, Ireland says, was raised by clergy at charismatic churches. Again, Millar and Gumbel rejected the criticism and said they were trying to steer a middle course between the Pentecostals who insist on tongues and others who reject it.[20]

In the discussion of these and other issues, Ireland comments,

“I am struck by how in our discussion they were both rather defensive: they had an answer prepared for every point and did not give any ground, either no change was necessary, or they had already made slight amendments here and there, or the problem identified was the fault of the user. This reflection is crystallised for me in the fact that after our meeting I came away with a sheaf of notes and a list of actions to follow up, whereas Gumbel and Millar left with no notes and no actions to follow up. They were very keen to encourage and support us in making Alpha work at local level, but the core product was clearly non-negotiable.”[21]

Gumbel was especially resistant to the idea of local adaptation, speaking of the need for uniformity and consistency, citing a market example: “If I went to McDonalds in Moscow and was given a ham sandwich, I would say that’s not on.” Ireland observes that a couple of years earlier Pete Ward had published an article entitled, “Alpha, the McDonaldization of Religion?” “Gumbel will have been aware of this critique,” he says, “yet he still chose to cite McDonalds in support of the need for uniformity in Alpha wherever it is offered.” While this can be beneficial, providing an accessible tool for those without the ability to develop their own program, “The downside of this approach is that it teaches people how to use a product rather than how to do evangelism. This reinforces dependence on the source of the product [and] is a classic feature of the behaviour of multi-national corporations.” Ireland refers to Ward’s critique that “Alpha offers people the illusion of religion, in that membership of a local church and regular Sunday worship are simply not like Alpha.” This is akin to what some have referred to as the “Disneyfication” of religion.[22]

Ireland suggests that the individualistic emphasis is one of the most serious sins of Alpha and one of the most pervasive. “It is perhaps significant that the logo on the front cover of all the Alpha materials is of an individual wrestling alone with a big question*. There is something quite individualist about Alpha which resonates with our culture, but loses something of the corporate nature of faith.”[23] *see the picture on page 1

And these questions are given oversimplified and incomplete answers, which he notes Martyn Percy criticized as a sort of “Join-the-dots” Christianity.” Percy comments that Alpha’s “basics” “turn out to be a largely inerrant Bible, a homely and powerful Holy Spirit, and an evangelical atonement theory, and not the Trinity, baptism, communion or community.” Alpha, he says, is “a package, not a pilgrimage,” and is “salvation by copyright.”[24]

Ireland is not wholly negative on either Alpha in particular or “process evangelism” courses in general. Over 61% of the parishes in his diocese use some form of such a course, resulting in “1,377 people having come to Christian faith, commitment or confirmation.” Courses such as these have been tools enabling parishes to see their ministry as one of evangelization, and to recover ancient practices of catechesis. “In a society where for the majority of people conversion is a journey or a gradual process, every church needs a nurturing group where enquirers are able to belong before they are asked to believe, to ask whatever for them are the big questions about life, and to explore the Christian faith.” The effectiveness lies, he says, not in the particular brand, but in the idea of process and journey, and all published courses have similar effectiveness rates. With any such tool, adaptation, balance, constant improvement, and follow-up courses which go deeper are necessities.[25]

Alpha and Evangelization in light of the General Directory for Catechesis

But let us now look at the other question which is fundamental to the “Alpha for Catholics” approach. We are told to accept Alpha “as is” and to leave Catholic “distinctives” for a “supplemental course.” Is this methodology legitimate, when we look at the guiding documents for Catholic evangelization and catechesis? What can we affirm in the approach of Alpha, and what should concern us?

The General Directory for Catechesis [GDC] says, “It is the task of catechesis to show who Jesus Christ is, his life and ministry, and to present the Christian faith as the following of his person. The fact that Jesus Christ is the fullness of Revelation is the foundation for the Christocentricity of catechesis: the mystery of Christ, in the revealed message, is not another element alongside others, it is rather the center from which all other elements are structured and illumined.” GDC 41. If Alpha does anything well, it is this; and this is perhaps one of the reasons for its popularity. It is meant to introduce an inquirer to the person of Jesus Christ.

We can affirm as well Alpha’s desire to include a number of elements that the Vatican 2 decree Ad Gentes saw as vital to evangelization: “Christian witness, dialogue and presence in charity (GDC 11-12),” and “the proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion (GDC 13).” Catholic Alpha acknowledges that from this must follow more detailed catechesis through the catechumenate and initiation into the Catholic community. The GDC speaks of “essential moments” in the process of evangelization, and we can affirm that an initial proclamation to non-believers and the unchurched is going to be distinct from the catechesis of those already introduced to Christ, and for which it lays the foundation. GDC 47

Primary proclamation (the responsibility of all Christians) implies “a going-out, a haste, a message,” while catechesis “starts with the condition indicated by Jesus himself: whosoever believes, whosoever converts, whosoever decides. Both activities are essential and mutually complementary: go and welcome, proclaim and educate, call and incorporate.” Alpha could be seen as an attempt to accomplish the first. But though primary proclamation and catechesis are distinct, we cannot rigidly separate them, and that is what Alpha seems to suggest by saying that “distinctives” must be left to a “supplementary” program. There must be some content, which provides the basis for the decision to follow Christ; thus the GDC speaks of a “kerygmatic catechesis” or a “pre-catechesis,” which paves the way for “a solid option of faith.” GDC 61-62. We are to have “a single program of evangelization which is both missionary and catechumenal.” GDC 277

The object of catechesis is communion with Jesus Christ. Again, we can affirm the central emphasis of Alpha. “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch, but also in communion and intimacy, with Jesus Christ. All evangelizing activity is understood as promoting communion with Jesus Christ. Starting with the initial conversion of a person to the Lord, catechesis seeks to solidify and mature this first adherence.” GDC 80

However, the GDC insists that his initiatory catechesis must be “a comprehensive and systematic formation in the faith.” We are to aim for “a complete Christian initiation, which promotes an authentic following of Christ, focused on his Person.” It is “essential” and “common,” but not in the sense of being minimalist; for the GDC this means that we catechize “without entering into disputed questions nor transforming itself into a form of theological investigation.” GDC 67-68. “Catechesis starts out with a simple proposition of the integral structure of the Christian message, and proceeds to explain it in a manner adapted to the capacity of those being catechized.” GDC 112. The guide to this structure is the Apostles’ Creed. GDC 115.

And the GDC rejects an individualistic piety, for “Communion with Jesus Christ, by its own dynamic, leads the disciple to unite himself with everything with which Jesus Christ himself was profoundly united: with God his Father, who sent him into the world, and with the Holy Spirit, who impelled his mission; with the Church, his body, for which he gave himself up, with mankind and with his brothers whose lot he wished to share.” GDC 81

The Church is thus not something that can be discussed as an afterthought to the Gospel message, but is the essential agent in the proclamation of the Gospel. “Catechesis is an essentially ecclesial act.” GDC 78. Christ founded the Church on the apostles, to whom he gave the Holy Spirit, sending them to preach the good news to the entire world. The Church through all ages bears the fullness of the divine Word, in Scripture and Tradition, guided by the Spirit speaking through the Magisterium. As the “universal sacrament of salvation,” the Church not only preaches the Gospel, but communicates God’s gifts in the sacraments. GDC 42-46.

Citing Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi, the GDC warns of “the risk of impoverishing or even of distorting” evangelization. It “must develop its totality and completely incorporate its intrinsic bipolarity: witness and proclamation, word and sacrament, interior change and social transformation. Those who evangelize have a global vision of evangelization.” GDC 46 “A fundamental principle of catechesis is that of safeguarding the integrity of the message and avoiding any partial or distorted presentation: In order that the sacrificial offering of his or her faith should be perfect, the person who becomes a disciple of Christ has the right to receive “the words of faith,” not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor.” GDC 111

We can apply this principle to the sacraments, of which the GDC says, “They form an organic whole in which each particular sacrament has its own vital place. In this whole, the Holy Eucharist occupies a unique place to which all of the other sacraments are ordained. The Eucharist is to be presented as the sacrament of sacraments.” GDC 115

Conclusion

Despite the commendable intent of Alpha to evangelize the unchurched by facilitating an initial encounter with Jesus Christ, we must conclude that even with a Catholic supplement, it remains deficient, and cannot be recommended for Catholic use. Alpha does not fulfill the expectations for Catholic catechesis and evangelization, and presents what Catholics must see as an impoverished and distorted Gospel. It is not “basic Christianity,” but is Charismatic Protestantism. To tack Catholic elements to be tacked onto the end, especially issues of Church and Sacrament, denies the integral nature of Christian revelation.

Notes

[1] ChristLife Catholic Evangelization Services. http://www.christlife.org.

[2] Nicky Gumbel, How to Run the Alpha Course: A Handbook for Alpha Directors, Leaders, and Helpers (Colorado Springs: Cook Ministry Resources, 1997), p. 47, 101 [on prayer for tongues during retreat], 104 [on Communion during the retreat and the healing session].

[3] Alpha UK. http://alphacourse.org.

[4] Catholic Evangelisation Services/Catholic Alpha Office (UK). http://www.catholicalphaoffice.org (hereafter noted in the text simply as UK Catholic Alpha Office).

[5] Alpha for Catholics: Questions and Answers (Ellicott City, MD. ChristLife Catholic Evangelization Services, n.d.), p. 6.

[6] Ibid., p. 12.

[7] Ibid., p. 11.

[8] Ibid., p. 12.

[9] Ibid., p. 6.

[10] Gumbel, Questions of Life: A Practical Introduction to the Christian Faith (Colorado Springs: Cook Ministry Resources, 1996), pp. 219-221.

[11] Ibid., p. 219.

[12] Ibid., pp. 228-229.

[13] How to Run the Alpha Course, p. 50.

[14] Ibid., p. 104.

[15] Questions of Life, pp. 155-163.

[16] Ibid., pp. 199-215.

[17] Ibid., p. 163.

[18] Mark Ireland, “A Study of the Effectiveness of Process Evangelism Courses in the Diocese of Lichfield, with Special Reference to Alpha” (MA dissertation. University of Sheffield at Cliff College, 2000), p. 2. Note: This dissertation is available on-line at http://www.evangelism.uk.net/papers/lichfield_alpha1.htm, in the form of a ZIP-file. Page numbers correspond to the printed copy I made after “un-zipping” it into Microsoft Word. Pagination could therefore differ in other formats.

[19] Ibid., pp. 17-18.

[20] Ibid., p. 19.

[21] Ibid., p. 32.

[22] Ibid., p. 32-33. References are to Pete Ward, “Alpha, the McDonaldization of Religion?” Anvil 15(November 4, 1998): 279-286.

[23] Ibid., p. 35.

[24] Martyn Percy, “Join-the-dots Christianity,” Reviews in Religion and Theology (3/1997), p. 15; cited in Ireland, “Study,” p. 36.

[25] Ireland, “Study,” pp. 39-40. For another critique of Alpha, see Stephen Hunt, Anyone for Alpha?: Evangelism in a Post-Christian Society (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd., 2001).

References

Alpha UK. http://alphacourse.org.

Alpha USA. http://www.alphausa.org.

Alpha for Catholics: Questions and Answers. Ellicott City, MD. ChristLife Catholic Evangelization Services, n.d.

Catholic Evangelisation Services/Catholic Alpha Office (UK). http://www.catholicalphaoffice.org.

ChristLife Catholic Evangelization Services. http://www.christlife.org.

Gumbel, Nicky. The Alpha Course Manual. London: HTB Publications, 1999. Reprint edition. Colorado Springs: Cook Ministry Resources, 1999.

Gumbel, Nicky. How to Run the Alpha Course: A Handbook for Alpha Directors, Leaders, and Helpers. Colorado Springs: Cook Ministry Resources, 1997.

Gumbel, Nicky. Questions of Life: A Practical Introduction to the Christian Faith. Colorado Springs: Cook Ministry Resources, 1996.

Gumbel, Nicky. Telling Others: A Practical Approach to Sharing the Christian Faith. Colorado Springs: Cook Ministry Resources, 1994.

Gumbel, Nicky and Sandy Millar, “Response to Mark Ireland’s Dissertation.” 20 November 2001. http://www.evangelism.uk.net/papers/alpha_reply1.htm.

Hunt, Stephen.  Anyone for Alpha?: Evangelism in a Post-Christian Society. London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd., 2001.

Ireland, Mark. “A Study of the Effectiveness of Process Evangelism Courses in the Diocese of Lichfield, with Special Reference to Alpha.” MA dissertation. University of Sheffield at Cliff College, 2000.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
The above article is also available at

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=7562&CFID=40269900&CFTOKEN=30091699 and

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=7562&CFID=40847802&CFTOKEN=51060240

–Michael

[See also Evangelism- Which Way Now? An Evaluation of Alpha… by Mike Booker and Mark Ireland
http://books.google.co.in/books?id=5U6ptw15LokC&pg=PA20&lpg=PA20&dq=Alpha,+the+McDonaldization+of+Religion+Pete+Ward&source=bl&ots=-7NANpjhjx&sig=G6qxraTF0nU9E5m9yJhb5aDCdn8&hl=en&ei=1wURTLOhE8OyrAeCg8TfBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CAkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Alpha%2C%20the%20McDonaldization%20of%20Religion%20Pete%20Ward&f=false
–Michael]

SECULAR AND RELIGIOUS NEWS INFORMATION

Alpha course
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_course
EXTRACT:

Doctrine

Alpha’s teachings are intended to centre upon aspects of Christian faith on which all denominations are in general agreement. Gumbel says “What unites us is far greater than what divides us.” Roman Catholic distinctives, such as those concerning the Virgin Mary and certain sacramental teachings are absent, as are Baptist teachings on baptism. Instead, individual churches are encouraged to provide follow-up courses of their own.

The New International Version of the Bible is quoted in the course materials. St Paul’s reference to scripture being “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) is referred to, although whether this view of scripture implies strict inerrancy is not made clear.

Within evangelical Protestantism the most controversial element of the Alpha Course is what is considered to be its charismatic slant. Three of the fifteen sessions are given to the person and work of the Holy Spirit and cover the infilling of the Spirit; speaking in tongues and healing via prayer. Conversion stories in the book of Acts (see 2:1ff, 9:17-19, 10:44-46, 19:1-6) are seen as normative.

Widely used

Although originating from the Evangelical Anglican tradition, it has subsequently been used by a variety of church traditions and groups. The Alpha course has been endorsed by a number of leaders, including many Roman Catholic cardinals, Anglican archbishops and bishops,[9] and leading figures of all the main Christian denominations. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams was an enthusiastic supporter when he was Bishop of Monmouth and Archbishop of Wales and has carried on his support into his new role,[10] opening an Alpha conference and accepting an invitation to speak at an Alpha supper in London in 2004. He describes it as “a very special tool” and “a unique mixture of Christian content and Christian style”.[9] His predecessor, George Carey described the courses as “superb.”[10] Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a monk of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and Preacher to the Papal Household for Pope Benedict XVI wrote a document praising Alpha in June 2005.[11]

Critics

The Alpha course has been criticised for a charismatic emphasis. A particular problem for non-charismatic evangelicals is what is seen as Gumbel’s emphasis upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit. As a result, some churches have chosen to teach a different view of the Holy Spirit, although this is discouraged in Gumbel’s book How to Run the Alpha Course.

Because it has been recommended as supplementary reading, Gumbel’s book, Searching Issues, has become a focus of criticism. There is a chapter criticising homosexual practice, although this is not unique to the Alpha course but part of the wider Evangelical context.[12]

More conservative critics (especially from a Reformed and Evangelical perspective) have complained that the course does not adequately define sin and therefore does not properly explain the reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection. The alternative Christianity Explored course is an attempt to go beyond what the Alpha Course teaches on sin.

The Reverend Dr John Vincent of the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield has suggested that Alpha presents too narrow a version of Christianity, and one too centred on what theologians have said about Jesus, rather than allowing students the freedom to draw their own inspiration from studying Jesus’ life and teaching. “The Alpha course, because of its didactic style, its narrow-mindedness and its closed nature, doesn’t facilitate alternative views,” he says. “I happen to believe it therefore leads people into a self-centred religion which is not the same as the genuine Christian discipleship“.[13]

Books for use with the course:

Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Life (Kingsway Publications 2003). ISBN 1-84291-164-3

Nicky Gumbel, Searching Issues (Kingsway Publications 2001). ISBN 0-85476-739-8

The Alpha Manual (Alpha International Publications 2005). ISBN 1-904074-23-5

Books about the course:

Andrew Brookes (Editor), The Alpha Phenomenon (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland[16], 2007). ISBN 978-0-85169-331-6

Stephen J. Hunt, The Alpha Enterprise: Evangelism in a Post-Christian Era (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2004) ISBN 978-0-7546-5036-2

References

9. The Bishops and Archbishops

10. Archbishop launches Alpha course

11.
Faith Which Overcomes The World London, Alpha Course, 27 June 2005[dead link]

12.
Nicky Gumbel Searching Issues: Exploring the Meaning of Life (Eastbourne: Kingsway, 2001)

13.
Pigott, Robert (2001-07-27). “Church leaders launch controversial courses”. BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1460552.stm. Retrieved 2009-10-17.

Which techniques does the “Alpha Course” use to brainwash people?

http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090522031057AAueLwQ Best Answer – Chosen by Voters

To answer your question you have to accept some questionable assumptions.
1) That it is possible to ‘brainwash’ people. Evidence for brainwashing as such is very limited. Influence or persuade would be more realistic terms.
2) That the Alpha Course is about brainwashing. I have no statistical data but I suspect that the percentage of people who enter an Alpha Course with committed atheist views who become Christians is quite low. The highest percentage of people who commit to Christianity after Alpha will be those who can pro-Christian beliefs and attitudes before the Alpha Course.
So let me restate your question is a way I hope will be helpful. What psychological techniques does the Alpha Course use to persuade people to commit to a Christian belief system? Here are a few.
1) Social referencing – you are put in a group which will contain a number of very committed people and a number who are already on the borders of committing. As group members become more convinced it is harder for individuals to resist the pressure.
2) Reciprocity – you will be fed and looked after on an Alpha Course. You will receive and not be expected to give back. This creates a sense of wanting to be nice to people who have been nice to you, perhaps by agreeing to share their beliefs.
3) Appeal to Authority – Alpha Courses draw on the views of theological ‘experts’. There know their stuff and how to present it. The course leaders will claim they know less than the experts, but will draw on the knowledge of someone not in the room.
4) Rolling with resistance – you will be encouraged to share your doubts and suspicions. These will be treated as normal and to be expected.
The very reasonableness of this leaves you more open to the
other person’s point of view.

The magnet of Alpha by Ruth Gledhill June 26, 1998

http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/6634

In 1990 there were three Alpha courses running each year. Seven years later, there were 7,000 in 58 countries worldwide. What is the reason for the extraordinary success of this Anglican introduction to Christianity, which is now being adopted by Catholics? The religion correspondent of The Times presents an A to Z of Alpha.

The phone call from a tiny hamlet in southern England made me want to weep. The caller was an Anglican clergyman’s wife whose husband had retired some years ago. In his place had been installed an evangelical new-broom, fond of guitars and worship songs, determined to sweep out the dusty cobwebs from the past.

One of his first innovations was to introduce the Alpha course. The retired couple had tactfully stayed away from the church, feeling their presence might be irksome to the newcomers, and had found an alternative place to worship. But the wife was visited by a mission from their church, urging her to come along to the course which was about to start. Pleased to be asked, she duly turned up.

She had called me the following day because she was disconcerted to find that the Christianity she had followed faithfully, through the vicissitudes of the Book of Common Prayer, the 1928 prayer book, Series One, Two and Three and the 1980 Alternative Service Book, bore little resemblance to what was happening now in her parish church. The church, which had previously struggled to attract a congregation of a dozen, was packed and she was given a warm welcome. Many of those present had done Alpha several times, in spite of explicit recommendations from its founders that the course is for new Christians or non-Christian enquirers and should only be done once. In spite of a lifetime of Christianity, my caller, in her seventies, had come away feeling sad, lonely and an outsider. She wanted to know whether she should return for the second of the 15 sessions.

If bums on seats is the aim, and there is no doubt that in the Church of England it is, whatever the spin doctors might say to convince us otherwise, then Alpha works. There can be no question about that. As this elderly woman herself noticed sadly, her husband’s once-struggling church was packed and, more to the point as far as church authorities were concerned, the dynamic new congregation was fast replenishing the formerly empty coffers, with any surplus funds overflowing merrily into the diocesan bank account.

For an established Church of England still recovering from the humiliating losses it suffered in property speculation in the 1980s, Alpha, with its ability to attract the young, wealthy middle classes and keep them there, has fallen out of the blue like manna from heaven after 40 years in a post-war wilderness of declining congregations, failing organs and leaking roofs. And if it works, why fix it? Alpha does work, and after trying it out for myself, I cannot see anything that needs fixing, or at least fixing any more urgently than the thousands of other loose fixtures and fittings currently supporting our beloved Anglican structure on a base which might yet prove to be solid as the rock of St Peter.

My one qualm, however, is shared by others in the ever-expanding world of religious reporting. It just seems too good to be true. There are vicars, and now Roman Catholic priests, a well as Methodists, Congregationalists and dozens of others, throughout England and the world who after years of struggling against the odds have tried Alpha and experienced a phenomenal burst of growth. Of course it has not worked for everyone, but the stories of success are extraordinary in religious institutions that only a decade ago seemed doomed to post-millennial extinction. No one seems able to say just what it is that lies behind this resurgence in Christianity. Some fear a spiritual South Sea Bubble or a religious equivalent of the Wall Street crash, destined to collapse around everyone’s ears.

Others insist it is simply the Holy Spirit, working for once in a not-so-mysterious way, and of course it is impossible to argue with that explanation without seeming to be incorrigibly cynical, or without provoking a new and formidable evangelistic outreach in one’s own direction. Quite a few are afraid to ask any such questions about the success of Alpha, as if even posing them might bring about the feared disaster, and Alpha, along with these thousands of new and reborn Christians, might disappear into the ether like so many puffs of sanctuary smoke. Much has been written about Alpha, and some of it makes for hilarious reading.

One of the most entertaining Alpha critiques can be found on Ian Paisley’s web-site on the Internet, and was actually brought to my attention by the Reverend Nicky Gumbel himself. Gumbel is Alpha chaplain at Holy Trinity Brompton, in Knightsbridge, where the course originated 20 years ago, under the leadership of the then curate, the Reverend Charles Marnham. Anyone interested in Alpha should take a look at how the course is seen through the eyes of such Presbyterians, because at least they are not shy of posing questions. The Reverend Paul Fitton of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster has gone further. He has asked: The Alpha course: is it Bible-based or Hell-inspired?

More than 7,000 Alpha courses are now running in 58 countries. As Mr Fitton rightly points out, if it continues to advance at its present rate, its teaching will permeate into most churches and influence most Christians. But he goes on to say: If we examine the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, we discover that the false prophet preached, and prayed, and performed great signs and wonders in the name of Christ. He notes that the course began at an Anglican church. The Anglican Church as a whole has tolerated error for a very long time, he writes. The Anglican Church has embraced the error of the Mass even though one of the Thirty Nine Articles denounces it as a ‘blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit’. It has permitted ungodly men, men who have no knowledge or experience of the rebirth, to minister. He includes a personal attack on Mr Gumbel. If Nicky Gumbel were the spiritual man he and others claim him to be, he would not be a curate in the Church of England. God calls men out of apostasy, not into it.

Mr Fitton evinces surprise that the Catholic Church should be embracing Alpha. The Bible teaches that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he says, citing Ephesians 2:8, 9. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that those who believe that doctrine are ‘anathema’: they are cursed.

But even he concedes that what Gumbel says on the person and work of Christ on the whole is acceptable and that the same applies to his dealing with sin. His doubts seem to centre around a concern that Alpha represents a conveyor-belt Christianity, and a concern that any teaching that the Holy Spirit has changed the sinner from within is absent from the course. There is conversion here, but it is conversion to a Christian lifestyle rather than a conversion to Christ, he argues.

He also criticises what is known as the Holy Spirit weekend, when course members go away together to a retreat house or somewhere similar and are taught the doctrine and tradition of the Third Person of the Trinity.

Reports from these weekends are varied, and not having been on one myself it is difficult to comment accurately. It is common however for members of the course, on these weekends, to have direct experiences of or in the Spirit, to be slain in the Spirit, to speak in tongues and to enjoy other of the gifts referred to by St Paul when writing to the Corinthians. While Protestant churches worldwide were in the throes, and I use that word deliberately, of the Toronto Blessing, there appears to have been a stage when more extreme manifestations of these gifts made themselves present during the Holy Spirit weekends.

But from various reports, the Blessing seems to be fading a little into the background, and a more normative Pentecostal or charismatic Christianity emerging, at least in the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Certainly, though, whatever their objective response to the Alpha teachings, few people seem to return from these Holy Spirit weekends unchanged in some, if not many, respects.

It is difficult to see how it can be argued, given the Christian precedents for this style of teaching, how those who then go on to make a commitment to Christ are not undergoing a true conversion. Mr Gumbel himself concedes, after all, that Alpha is merely an introduction. It is not, and has never attempted to be, a complete induction, or a replacement for any traditional catechesis in any Church. As Bishop Ambrose Griffiths of Hexham and Newcastle states: It is not a complete exposition of Catholic doctrine. No introductory course could possibly do that. But it doesn’t contain anything contrary to Catholic doctrine.

Other attacks on Alpha have borne headlines such as ‘Nicky Gumbel unmasked’, and argue that it presents the Gospel according to Gumbel, or that it fails to place enough emphasis on the second person of the Trinity, Christ. The Alpha course is installed in many local Catholic churches, reads one critique from a Surrey-based journal, Vanguard, which I had never come across before until, again, Mr Gumbel brought it to my attention. If there is anything unbiblical about Catholicism, Alpha is not the thing to expose it. Rather it smoothes everything over and makes people cosy in their error. The chief concern on the Protestant side, however, seems to be that belief in the Alpha teaching might be mistaken in the believer for a true Christian faith.

It is difficult to track down any equally fascinating anti-Alpha writings on the Catholic side. Chief among concerns, as reported in The Tablet in May, seems to be that the method might be too individualistic and too focused on a personal relationship with God, with insufficient emphasis on the church community. Fr Andrew Faley, of the Catholic Education Service, admits the opportunities for personal renewal offered by Alpha, but emphasises the importance of the wider picture, as offered in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

There is a note of surprise, probably unintentional, in the comment from the Catholic Alpha office that Catholics who have read the Alpha material have found it to be remarkably free from anything which we might object to. The office admits that, for some, the evangelical approach has been a cause for concern. But, it says, Alpha can be seen as one means of responding to the call to evangelisation contained in Pope Paul VI’s letter Evangelii Nuntiandi and John Paul II’s Tertio Millennio Adveniente. It goes on: Alpha might seem, to some, individualistic in its approach. It does encourage us to enter into a relationship with God as individuals as well as Church. Alpha’s emphasis on the individual has the advantage of speaking to the individualistic mindset that many have today. Our identity as Catholic Christians is very much as part of the church community. But this sense of Church is perhaps not something which people can respond to in the early stages.

As the daughter of a clergyman, I had never felt any personal desire or need to attend an Alpha course myself. But when I set out to write this article, it became clear that I had no alternative but to attend at least part of one. I was placed in a group with three cradle Catholics, all women aged under 25. They had no plans to leave their mother Church, but were tremendously excited by what they were learning on Alpha. It put flesh on the bones of their faith, they explained. Before, while believing faithfully in the Catholic teachings they had learned from childhood, these doctrines were so much a part of their internal emotional and spiritual fabric that, if ever challenged to explain how they could be believing Catholics at the end of the twentieth century, they had found themselves at a loss for words. They believed in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of the Body and the Ascension, but could not say why. Alpha was giving them the language to explain their faith when facing such challenges, in phrases that they and their secular friends could easily understand.

Others on the course had no background in any faith whatsoever. Some were sceptical and challenging, and were there because their wives or husbands had themselves been converted and had persuaded them to try it for themselves. It was as if they wanted to believe, but were struggling to find it credible. Among these people, especially the men, fear of what their peers at work or on the football pitch would think if they suddenly became a Christian played a large part in making a commitment difficult.

Then there were others for whom Alpha had clearly come as a lifeline up which they were climbing from some unimaginable abyss of grief, despair or disaster. There were mothers who had lost babies, alcoholics who had lost families, husbands who had lost wives, addicts who had lost everything. These people did not care whether Alpha was not Calvinist enough, or fell into the Presbyterian sin of being too ecumenical, or was too individualistic for some tastes. The young Catholic women I spoke to were the most convincing when it came to theological or doctrinal challenges to Alpha. But it was these others, struggling with such courage to escape their personal pits of horror who were the most remarkable and the most humbling.

There is a saying that religion is for people who are frightened of going to hell, spirituality is for those who have been there. Alpha, with its Christian version of group therapy on courses structured around a meal, a talk and a few hymns, offers undeniable salvation of the spirit for such people for whom day-to-day living is a form of hell on earth.

There have been suggestions in some quarters that the Alpha spirituality has parallels with New Age spirituality, but the Alpha manual that is used, Mr Gumbel’s core course book, Questions of Life, and other Alpha material are all unashamedly and unrepentantly Christian in their outlook and content. Alpha began 20 years ago and, for at least 10 years, remained exclusive to Holy Trinity Brompton and its early offshoots, or church plants. The Reverend Charles Marnham’s wife, Tricia, thought up the name. It began as a four-week course with about four people on it. The Reverend John Irvine, now vicar of St Barnabas Kensington, one of Holy Trinity’s plants, took it over in 1981 when he succeeded Mr Marnham as curate. He lengthened it to 10 weeks and ran it for four years.

It then passed into the hands of the Reverend Nicky Lee, the next new ordinand to become curate at Holy Trinity, who also ran it for four years, before taking it with him to another Holy Trinity plant, St Paul’s in Onslow Square. It was only in 1990 that Nicky Gumbel, widely and mistakenly believed to be the founder and architect of the course, took it over.

But it is true that Gumbel’s influence on it has been profound, and he has written most of the accompanying course literature. When he began his work with Alpha, there were just three courses running a year, with about 100 people in total. By 1997, there were nearly 7,000 in 58 countries worldwide, and independent Alpha offices running in many churches and countries. This year, it is estimated that nearly 9,000 churches will run the course. The number of people who are doing or have done Alpha is now incalculable. And this is before it has even taken off properly in the United States, where it is just beginning to make an impact. Of the churches worldwide doing it so far, more than half are in Britain. But in what looks like the beginnings of another explosion, 3,000 separate churches in the United States have now ordered the Alpha materials.

By comparison, the number of Catholic churches doing the course remains relatively small, at about 200 in Britain, but again the early signs of growth are evident. Enquiries have been received from Italy, Argentina and Lebanon, a conference was held this month in Vienna and an information day for leaders in the Netherlands in April. Catholic Alpha officers have visited the Vatican.

Even in the Catholic Church, there seems to be a bit of the ‘I prayed for a parking space and the next minute God found me one’ mentality, which always makes me think of the thousands of starving people in Africa I pray for every week to little or no effect. This approach seems evidenced by a hi-tech testimony reported on the Catholic Alpha web-site. Fr Tom and the northern team have just completed a series of training evenings for 80 leaders in the Leeds diocese. One priest left quite unhappy with the whole thing, but prayed: ‘Lord, show me very clearly if this is of you.’ The next morning he cleared his e-mail to find a letter randomly sent by a woman in the United States who had had a deep conversion experience on Alpha and had since returned to the Catholic Church. He is now convinced the Lord will use every channel.

The fundamental change Mr Gumbel effected to the course, and to which he credits its explosion, came after he found that many non-Christians wanted to sign up for Alpha. It had been designed by his predecessors for new Christians, but not for people with no Christian background or church-going experience at all. Mr Gumbel deliberately changed its emphasis to an evangelistic tool rather than an expository one. Once we did that, for people outside the Church, it exploded, he said, because there are just so many more people outside the Church than there are in the Church.

Mr Gumbel is justifiably anxious to clear up some confusion surrounding Alpha. Alpha is not intended to replace anything else, he says. We are only offering it. We are willing to help any church that wants to run it. But we are not trying to get anybody to do it. He adds: We are not suggesting Alpha is the only way to evangelise, or even the best way.

Catholic parishes began running it about two years ago, after Bishop Ambrose Griffiths sent some people from his Church to an Alpha conference. Mr Gumbel was then asked to organise an Alpha conference specifically for the Catholic Church, and has since done four, three of them at Westminster Cathedral.

We were invited to do these conferences and felt it was right to respond to that, says Mr Gumbel. The first one, at the cathedral, was full up months before the date, with both priests and lay people, so we put on an overflow conference, and then a third one. We loved doing it. We found the Catholics so warm. There was so much humility and love. We learned so much.

He is as astonished by the success of Alpha as the rest of the Church. It never once occurred to me that Alpha would take off like this, he says. We have simply responded to the interest. We put on our very first conference, for the Church of England in London, because we spent so much time on the telephone answering questions to clergy who had heard what was happening and wanted to know more.

Criticisms are met with a masterly turning of the other cheek. I do not feel we have been attacked particularly, he says. I have not come across particularly aggressive publicity. On the whole we have been supported by the hierarchy. Regarding Catholic criticism of the approach, he is charmingly puzzled. I don’t quite know what is meant, he says. Mr Gumbel does not believe Alpha is in conflict with any Christian theology. After three years studying theology at Oxford, he is entitled to say that with some confidence. He started out as a law student at Trinity, Cambridge, and during his first year there his own Christian faith came alive, as he puts it, through reading the New Testament.

His father was a barrister who qualified in England in the early 1930s. He was disbarred in Germany because he was Jewish. His mother had been baptised but was not a church-goer. Amazingly, Mr Gumbel did not even know of his father’s religion until he was 14. The whole thing was so painful to my father that he did not want anyone to know he was German or Jewish, he says. He cut himself off totally from his past. I never spoke to him about it, and he would not speak about anything that led back to that. Many of his family had been killed in concentration camps. He got out easily because of being called to the bar here. He got his parents out in 1939, and his sister, but I have no idea what happened to the rest of his family and he never said anything about it.

He lost his house, he lost everything. He came here and started life from scratch. In 1949 Walter Gumbel married Muriel, also a barrister, who at one stage served as vice-chairman of the Greater London Council. Both Mr Gumbel’s parents died in the 1980s. He was sent to Eton and his sister, also a barrister, to St Paul’s.

Asked whether finding out about his Jewish ancestry had an enormous impact, Mr Gumbel says: You would need a psychiatrist to answer that one. But he adds: Obviously I was surprised.

Inevitably, Mr Gumbel, who is now 43, and who met his wife Pippa through an assignation at a nightclub in the King’s Road, Chelsea, was destined for the bar himself. But while at Cambridge his room-mate, the aforementioned Nicky Lee, introduced him to religion.

His then girlfriend, now his wife, said they had become Christians, which terrified me, both as an expression and also as an idea, he says. So I thought I would investigate it. Because of my secular background I knew absolutely nothing about it. I picked up a Bible I had from RE at school and started reading it. I just read it the whole way through for two days. At the end, I was convinced it was true. I had a choice. Everything in me wanted to say ‘no’. But I knew it was true, and reluctantly I said ‘yes’. And I suddenly discovered it was what I had been looking for all my life, without realising it.

He moved to London for his bar finals, and by chance his parents’ parish church was Holy Trinity, Brompton. He started attending at a time when the Reverend Sandy Millar, now the vicar, had just become curate, in the 1970s, and there were few people aged under 50 in the congregation. Mr Gumbel was invited to attend the first-ever home group started by Mr Millar.

He remained a working barrister until 1983. My father had put me down at birth for a set of tax chambers, he says. He wisely saw that tax would be the one area of law that would never die. Sadly, it was not what I wanted to do. He turned to crime, as it were, and then common law, where he gained experience in divorce and family law that proved invaluable when he at last followed his true vocation, to become a clergyman. After ordination in 1986, he looked at nine parishes, but was turned away by every one. They put it very politely but they did not quite have room, he said. I do not blame them one bit. They obviously had very good judgement.

So it was back to Holy Trinity Brompton, where his friend Nicky Lee, now the curate there, asked him to help out with the Alpha talks, and then Mr Millar invited him to join the staff. In spite of his obvious gifts, Mr Gumbel does not for some reason seem destined for high office in the Church. In fact, he was in danger of becoming the Church’s longest-serving curate when the then Bishop of London, Dr David Hope, now Archbishop of York, made him an official Alpha chaplain and thus made room for another curate at Holy Trinity.

But then, Mr Gumbel does not seem to want high office, nor indeed does he seek any of the credit for the Alpha phenomenon. The wonderful thing about it is that you cannot really put a name to it, he says. There is no need for people running a course in, say, Zimbabwe, to know anything about us or HTB or anything else. It is just Alpha. That is how it should be.

All criticisms of Alpha seemed to vanish into nothingness when Mr Gumbel finished telling his story. He must have told it thousands of times, but it was still hugely moving. It is difficult to see how any Church could fail to benefit, at least in part if not wholly, from a wisely-used Alpha course.

Coincidentally, although of course this was nothing to do with God, the clergyman’s wife referred to at the start of this article called me back as I completed my researches. I had not given any opinion to her either for or against Alpha the first time round, but she had shown enormous courage and gone back to her old church to complete the course. She had now finished it, and seemed content.

More importantly, she felt she belonged once more to her church. But she had one confession to make: she had decided she simply could not go along to the Holy Spirit weekend. Instead, she had chosen to spend the weekend with her husband. It’s not that we don’t believe in the Holy Spirit, she said. We do. It’s just that we never went in for that sort of thing.

I pointed out that even the Catholics were doing it now. Are they? she brightened. Well then, it must be all right, mustn’t it?

[The Tablet is founded and run by lay Catholics but I have included this article in the “secular” section because its original author is the religion correspondent of The Times. – Michael]

Making waves with hard-sell

http://www.religionnewsblog.com/1817/making-waves-with-hard-sell
January 6, 2003

Religion may be a personal choice, but Alpha has been making waves in Britain with its bold approach. The 15-week course in Christianity for unbelievers is advertised on billboards. It opts for dialogue rather than preaching. Some of its converts are politicians and celebrities; and its premises are in a wealthy London area. But its propounder Nicky Gumbel says Alpha works because it lets people come to their own conclusions.
The Straits Times (Singapore), Jan. 4, 2003 http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/l By Samuel Lee

Secular wags in the press dubbed it the ‘Coca Cola of Christianity’ and its director ‘God’s own ad man’.

They were referring to a 15-week introductory course to Christianity, named Alpha – after the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and symbolising the start of a spiritual journey – a London-based movement of Anglican origin which has been making waves with its hard-sell.

Alpha is advertised on some 3,000 public buses and 75 stations of the London Underground, and across Britain on at least 1,500 billboards.

And it has attracted celebrity converts, including ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, Page Three topless pin-up-turned-1980s popster Samantha Fox, one-time permanent private secretary to Margaret Thatcher, Mr Michael Allison, and former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Jonathan Aitken, who was jailed for perjury in 1999.

Before Reverend Nicky Gumbel, 47, took over the reins in 1990, Alpha was seen, at best, as a refresher course for backsliding parishioners, with the aim of drawing them back to church.

But the barrister-turned-clergyman repackaged Alpha into a softer sell by making it a more open-ended ‘what’s the meaning of life’ spiritual exploration based on his best-selling 1993 book called Questions of Life. The target was the demographic of younger free-thinkers, atheists and agnostics.

In town recently for his third visit, to attend the two-day South East Asia Alpha Conference, God’s ad man summed up his sales pitch.

‘What happens is, people come for a meal, they have a talk, they have a coffee, they have a small group where they can discuss big questions with people like themselves.’

As a result of his combination of advertising hard-sell and theological soft-soap, attendances have rocketed from a measly 100-odd in 1992 to more than 15,000 last year.

In Singapore, more than 500 courses with an estimated total turnout of 25,000 have been conducted in churches, homes, prisons, halfway houses, business offices and junior colleges since 1994, says Mr Terry Wong, national director of Alpha Singapore.

In Britain, Rev Gumbel’s starry congregation has attracted much media attention, which he dismisses with some disdain: ‘The British media is obsessed by celebrity. Of the 1.4 million who have done the course in the UK, maybe five were famous.’

It is not just the showbiz glamour but the irresistible whiff of monied glories that draws scrutiny. Alpha’s international headquarters – Holy Trinity Brompton or HTB church – is located in trendy Knightsbridge in central West London, a stone’s throw from Harrod’s flagship store.

HTB is Britain’s richest parish, with an annual income estimated at Pounds 5.5 million (S$9.6 million) and a carpark crammed with Aston Martins, BMWs and Porsches.

Some have mocked it as a ‘gins and Jags’ church, labelling Alpha as little more than Chicken Soup For The Religious Soul and a meat market for well-heeled single young professionals and the nouveau riche.

‘But we’re in the centre of London,’ Rev Gumbel protests, regarding the show of wealth, before adding: ‘We just tell them the attractions of Christianity, then it’s up to them whether to join or not.’

As for the pile-up of luxury cars, he explains that HTB’s carparks are let out to local businesses to defray church expenses, and that those smart cars ‘have nothing to do with us’.

Whatever brickbats naysayers lob at him, there is no denying that his changes have succeeded in boosting attendances and uniting believers from Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and other denominational churches and affiliated organisations. Today, an estimated 3.8 million people have attended Alpha in 135 countries.

Held over 15 weeks with the aid of a manual, each session starts off with a free dinner, followed by a talk.

The course kicks off by asking whether Christianity is boring, untrue and irrelevant, before delving into subjects such as who Jesus is and how God and the Church fit in today’s society.

Rev Gumbel, who is married with three children, explains that the ‘big questions’ deal with the purpose of human existence: ‘What we are doing here, where we are heading, what happens when we die, and issues about guilt and forgiveness.’

In a clear and mellifluous baritone of someone accustomed to public speaking, he adds: ‘We call it an opportunity to explore. That means no one has to come. We don’t try and persuade anyone.’

Mid-way through the course, coordinators and participants go away for a weekend retreat where everyone is encouraged to seek a personal encounter with the Holy Ghost, the third person in the Trinity. This is a common practice with Charismatic Christians, who believe that if you are filled by the Spirit, you will start speaking in tongues.

But Rev Gumbel insists: ‘There is absolutely no pressure at any point for anyone to do anything. At the end of the day, maybe they decide that it’s not for them, or for them at that moment of their lives.’

Its low-key, unthreatening, not pressurising and non-confrontational approach works, and so well that even non-believers find it approachable.

As he adds: ‘I’ve got people going, ‘I’m not a Christian but I enjoyed it and want to help out in the next Alpha’, and it’s wonderful if someone who is not a Christian can come along and go ‘Oh that’s okay. I can do the course and not become one’.’

The church is so relaxed that if you want to take a smoke break at HTB, you will be shown not the door, but where you can light up.

This approach, as opposed to a castigating lecture on the health hazards of smoking, and giving participants space to breathe and think for themselves without badgering them with follow-up phone calls, may explain why Alpha is such a hit, even with those who decide eventually not to convert.

Being so non-judgmental, Rev Gumbel feels, has helped Alpha achieve credibility and international success.

Ironically, Alpha’s laissez-faire attitude is also why critics see it as feel-good spirituality for the me-generation.

This may be a little unfair, for Alpha also seeks to make good with social rehabilitation programmes.

For example, it has been available in prisons since 1994. An inmate at Exeter Prison asked his chaplain to invite Rev Gumbel to visit.

He did, and with a team in tow, transformed some hardcore prisoners in two weeks. Since then, Alpha has been running in more than 120 of Britain’s 158 prisons, and others in South Africa, Singapore and the United States.

Alpha’s prison programme even won a fan in President George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas. He ordered a trial programme to be implemented at Halbert State Prison in Burnet, an hour north-west of Austin.

Alpha’s outreach does not stop at prison walls.

Rev Gumbel says: ‘Anyone who’s done the course while in prison, like the one running in Kaki Bukit, can be met at the prison gates when they are released, by a church or an organisation which is running it.

‘They would help the person find a job and a place to live, and provide support, encouragement and friendship.’

Alpha has also achieved another miraculous feat by bringing some semblance of unity to the divided Christian world, in particular the age-old schism between the Church Of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

‘I think it’s because we concentrate on the things we agree on, the things that are right at the heart, the core or basic beliefs. People have different ways of expressing their faith and we may not agree about everything.

‘But what we have found with the Catholics is that what unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us.’

Religious mystery of the Alpha effect
by
Peter Rhodes Express & Star, UK September 27, 2004
www.expressandstar.com; http://www.religionnewsblog.com/8837/religious-mystery-of-the-alpha-effect

The latest religious revival to hit Britain has more to do with pasta than pastors. Peter Rhodes reports on the astonishing success of the Alpha Course.

The numbers are puzzling. On the one hand, church congregations are in freefall. On the other, three million folk have eagerly followed the Alpha Course.

Across the world, more than 30,000 of these astonishingly successful courses are in progress. Two of the latest are being held in a Black Country chapel and a Wolverhampton pub.

Does the Alpha Course work? Sharon Phillips, a 40-year-old teacher from Merry Hill, Wolverhampton, has no doubts. She says: “The course had the biggest impact I have ever known. It changed my life.”

She is one of the organisers of the new course at the Bradmore Arms in Wolverhampton which will follow the trade-mark programme of all Alpha courses. After a weekly series of meals, talks and discussions in the pub, members will be invited on a “Holy Spirit Weekend.”

Good food and good company are vital to the Alpha Course. It’s more about pasta than pastors. The name itself stands for: A – Anyone interested in the Christian faith. L – Learning and Laughter. P – Pasta, the symbol of eating together. H – Helping one another. A – Ask anything. No question is off-limits.

Alpha, founded at a “happy clappy” evangelical church in London and developed over the past 20 years, is easy, approachable, informal and free, apart from a donation towards the food. Thousands, including disgraced Tory Jonathan Aitken and former topless model Samantha Fox, claim it had brought them closer to God.

But there is a darker side. Critics accuse Alpha of distorting the Biblical message and dabbling in mass hysteria, particularly on residential courses.

Some Alpha participants have reported instances of members
falling down, quaking, barking like dogs or laughing uncontrollably
in the aisles. Some clergy have condemned Alpha as a
cult.

It is popular among the London elite. Sir David Frost is an eager Alpha student. When he presented ITV’s series, “Alpha: Will It Change Their Lives?” two years ago, the National Secular Society lodged a formal objection and furiously denounced the series as “a large advertising puff for a religious initiative about which many people have grave reservations.”

Debbie Herring, a former Alpha course leader in Sheffield, told the BBC that the techniques she was expected to use were similar to those of door-to-door salesmen.

“It became clear very early on that what Alpha was really about was high-pressure selling of a very narrow evangelical agenda, which dismisses and denies whole swathes of Christian teaching and tradition,” she said.

Alpha certainly runs a tight ship. Devised by Nicky Gumbel, a London-based lawyer-turned-priest, Alpha material is protected by copyright. Nicky Gumbel says this is to ensure that people on Alpha Courses are getting “the real thing.” But critics have described Alpha as the “Coca Cola of Christianity”. It is seen by some as a powerful “brand” which could make other teachings appear second-rate. Gay groups condemn Alpha for being intolerant of homosexuals and other religions.

But Yvonne Naylor, administrator of an Alpha Course at Lake Street Methodist Church in Lower Gornal, is a fervent believer in Alpha. “It has just grown and grown,” she says. “People enjoy the whole relaxed atmosphere of it. I have never seen any conflict or hysteria.” On Alpha “Awayday” courses she has seen people “speaking in tongues,” producing a sound which believers say comes from God. “But there is nothing cultish about that,” she says. “It is about being filled by the Holy Spirit and it is part of the Christian belief. The Alpha Course definitely strengthens people’s faith. I am absolutely convinced that it helps people.”

As for criticism of Alpha’s attitude towards gays, Yvonne Naylor says: “I think homosexuality is a personal thing.” Lake Street Methodist Church launched its new Alpha Course last week with 25 members.

The Bradmore Arms course has 40 members. Most of these worship at the nearby St Philip’s Church. The vicar, Jeremy Oakley, has run six Alpha Courses and says: “It enriches the faith of believers and enables non-believers to raise questions in a non-judgmental way.” He says he has never seen any evidence of Alpha becoming a rival organisation to the Church but he has seen some Alpha students in emotional states. “I have seen people having a really good and pleasant experience of God’s presence and that sometimes manifests itself in tears.”

The mystery is that while millions have followed Alpha Courses, church attendance is still in decline.

“There will always be people,” says Jeremy Oakley, “who take things on board and really go for it, and those who don’t seem to do much about it. But this is not just about filling churches.”

The Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt. Rev. Michael Bourke, has not attended an Alpha Course, “because it is a considerable time commitment and I am already a committed Christian.” But he welcomes the courses in his parishes. I don’t agree with all their theological standpoints and I do find it a bit prescriptive. But as a means of introducing people to the Christian faith, the Alpha Course people are doing a pretty good job.”

Alpha
‘feeds modern spiritual hunger’

by Paula Dear
August 4, 2005

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4721569.stm

There is an element of the Christian faith in the UK that is trying to buck the long-term trend of decline in the number of followers. Most congregations in the country have seen a steady drop over recent decades.

But one course that teaches the basics of Christianity – selling itself as a chance to “explore the meaning of life” – has enjoyed a resurgence. The course originated in an Anglican church in London’s Knightsbridge more than 20 years ago. There are now some 30,000 Alpha courses running around the world, say organisers. Sessions are held in prisons, workplaces, schools, colleges and military establishments. Around 7,000 UK churches are signed up, many running several courses a year. The number of converts does not match the tide of Christians leaving the church, says Alpha communications director Mark Elsdon-Dew.

But Alpha predominantly attracts young people – aged 27 on average – a good sign for the future, he suggests.

A ‘supper’ held at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) church – the home of Alpha – marks the end of the latest 10-week course. I am welcomed with beaming smiles and enthusiastic handshakes, and sat at a table of 10 tucking into salmon, couscous and wine. Alpha has been praised by church leaders and boasts celebrity endorsements.

But it has also attracted criticism as a “Coca Cola” version of Christianity, over the way it is marketed.

Some say Alpha is more a rich social club than a Christian coming-together. Others are uncomfortable with what they call its prescriptive teaching and attitudes towards homosexuality and other faiths.

‘What made you come here?’ I ask ‘graduate’ Abigail, 30, who tells me she was the “rebel” in a Christian family until recently. It’s a complex tale, involving a break-up with a boyfriend and the disappearance of a benign cyst in her eye following a prayer to God. Soon after she moved in with her sister, who is married to a curate at HTB, got a job there and became involved.

“Everything has fallen into place. Before I said I was happy, doing my own thing. I thought Christianity was fine for my family but not me. But after I said the prayer in the second week of the course that was it.”

Another woman says she was already a Christian but felt there was something missing. She breaks down while describing the Holy Spirit weekend – a part of the course which involves, in the words of one course-goer “experiencing the love of God directly”. “I feel like a whole person for the first time. All because I found God.”

Not all are convinced. One man said: “It was interesting but I don’t feel I have been successful in building a relationship with God.” There’s a collective groan as he admits he did not attend the away weekend, which many see as a crucial. But he is applauded when he adds: “I’ll do it in November and we’ll see what happens.”

Nicky Gumbel, Alpha’s creator in its present form, spreads the message in person or via videos around the world.

He says Alpha is growing because there’s a “spiritual hunger in every heart”.

“It’s hard to find a place in the modern world where you can discuss it in an unthreatening environment, where there are people just like you. People tell friends and it grows.

“You see how it changes people’s lives. We want the divorce rate down, crime down, the prison population reduced. Politicians can only change certain things. They can’t change people’s hearts.”

Talking of crime, ex-Metropolitan Police officer Simon Pinchbeck, 47, is less typical of the wealthy set HTB has a reputation for attracting. At 40, he says, his life spiralled out of control. He started clubbing, taking drugs and left his family. “I got pensioned off from the police. I was bitter. I got into the wrong crowd and turned to making a living out of crime. Then God sent me a lifeline. There was a guy in the gym, a violent drugs baron, who had turned his life around through faith. He looked so peaceful. I said I’ve got to have some of what he’s got.

Coming here was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The feeling when the spirit of God entered my life was unbelievable.”

Alpha staff are the first to admit its style is not for everyone – a view Jill Ross, 47, a teacher from Hertfordshire, agrees with. She happily admits she is an agnostic who began going to church while trying to fulfill the criteria to get her daughter into the local primary school. She was eventually persuaded by friends to try Alpha, but said she felt it did not answer her questions about Christianity. “It was like to talking to a politician of the opposite persuasion. They were all very nice people, but I came out feeling exactly as I did when I went in,” said Jill, who asked that her name be changed. Among her problems with Alpha was her feeling that other faiths were not given equal status. “I felt it was biased against other religions, whereas I believe all roads lead to one God,” she said. There was also an element of “therapy” about the style of the course, she said. “It plays huge mind games with people. You have to be a strong personality to resist, but I did. They were working on me all the time. They said they would pray for me. “I think they tend to prey on who is vulnerable. The whole thing for people is about being accepted and feeling like they belong. “It’s friendship I want, not spirituality.”

HERE IS A VERY BALANCED AND ACADEMIC OVERVIEW OF ALPHA. BUT AS ITS AUTHOR STATES, IT IS NOT AS MUCH A THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE OF ALPHA AS IT IS A SOCIO-RELIGIOUS STUDY OF THE ALPHA PHENOMENON. I WOULD RECOMMEND THAT THE VISITOR TO THIS SITE READS THE ENTIRE ARTICLE ALTHOUGH I HAVE TRIED HERE TO REPRODUCE SELECTED PORTIONS WITHOUT COMPROMISING ITS INTEGRITY- MICHAEL

The
Alpha Course
and Its Critics: An Overview of the Debates
by Stephen Hunt, Department of Sociology, University of the West of England, PentecoStudies, Volume 4, 2005

http://hollenwegercenter.net/PSpage/Hunt2005.pdf
EXTRACT:

Abstract This paper considers the theology and praxis that is discernible in the highly successful Alpha evangelising programme and the debates surrounding it. Alpha has a global dimension, impacting in churches in dozens of countries, while the accompanying literature is translated into several dozen languages.

While there are few accounts of its significance as a contemporary form of Christian evangelism, little has been explored in terms of Alpha’s theological content – the doctrines which constitute its ‘basic Christianity’.

This paper overviews the charismatic theology of Alpha, observing a number of fundamentalist tendencies on the one hand, and more liberal or at least more tolerant teachings on the other. The paper, moreover, overviews the theological critics of Alpha offered by those who see Alpha as too cultural-compromising at best or heretical at worse, while a more liberal critique is inclined to interpret it as conservative in nature. The paper will conclude that the theology of Alpha at least partly accounts for its success as an attractive package of Christianity but may, at the same time, set some of its limitations.

Introduction …For liberal critics, Alpha’s theological position is frequently interpreted as conservative or even fundamentalist in nature. The principal objection is that it focuses on a distinct form of atonement-salvationist dogma at the expense of other themes pertinent to the Christian message. Hence, liberal critics bemoan the absence of a social gospel and other dimensions of the faith such as the historical sacraments. On the other hand, conservative Christians, particularly evangelicals, have found Alpha to be culturally too world-accommodating, inadequate in some area of the Christian ‘basics’; that it fails to adequately advance dogma such as ‘sin’ and, for some of the more severe critics of this persuasion, Alpha borders on heresy in its ecumenical teaching.

…The discussion in this paper is derived from my research findings related to the Alpha programme in the UK. A pilot study initiated in 1999 led to the publication of Anyone for Alpha? (Hunt 2001a). This was followed by a nation-wide study (2001-3) which has resulted in further publications and academic papers (Hunt 2003; 2004). Besides a perusal of Alpha’s accompanying literature and explicit and implicit doctrinal statements, I will call upon some of the findings of field research where pertinent to an understanding of Alpha’s theology and the cultural milieu in which it is embedded. Likewise I will utilise findings regarding the objections to Alpha advanced by its critics. Personally speaking, I have few personal comments regarding Alpha’s theology, either in support or by way of offering a critique. Partly this is because I am a sociologist of religion rather than a theologian, and to some extent because I would at least seek a balanced appraisal. In exploring the key issues I will examine the principal role of Holy Trinity, Brompton, in forming the central theology of Alpha, consider the programme in more detail in relation to its theological teachings, and explore the contention that Alpha is a kind of evangelical McDonald’s (with reference to George Ritzer’s work on the phenomenon of McDonaldisation) before addressing the subject of theological critiques more systematically.

…According to the Alpha web site, leaders of some of the largest churches and ministries in the USA, along with respected theologians, are increasingly endorsing Alpha. Hence, the Alpha site boasts complimentary quotes about the programme from a variety of Christian celebrities including Bill Hybels, J.I. Packer, Luis Palau and Jack Hayford. Given the scope of Alpha questions related to its theology, its ‘basic Christianity’, become imperative. The Significance of Holy Trinity, Brompton As we have already noted, Holy Trinity, Brompton, which is situated in a salubrious part of central London, is the centre of Alpha activity. HTB is presently the wealthiest Anglican church in England with an annual income of £3 million, much of which is derived from the business side of Alpha. The church is part of an evangelical network which criss-crosses the globe although, as noted above, a special link has been established with the Vineyard movement. It was such a connection that was to lead, in the mid 1990s, to HTB’s involvement in the so-called Toronto Blessing which, as I shall argue below, has some bearing on Alpha’s development… HTB is one of the largest charismatic churches in the UK with its team of leaders constituting some of the best-known figures on the Church ‘scene’. The church embraces the state-of-the-art Christian culture through its various evangelising activities and bookshop which sells all the accompanying paraphernalia of the Alpha course. While the programme itself has long been established at HTB, the resources and energy now put into the programme marks an important departure from earlier activities perhaps exemplified by its involvement in the Toronto Blessing. Now HTB has become practically synonymous with Alpha, and a large notice board situated at the front of the church proudly announces ‘Welcome to HTB – the Home of Alpha’.

There is no doubting [Nicky] Gumbel’s personal impact on Alpha… A clergyman I interviewed during my survey of Alpha suggested that he was ‘the second most important person in Christendom after the Pope’. This comment may not be too far off of the mark… In the early summer of 2002, I attended a theology conference at a Danish university. Many of the theologians I conversed with told me of the increasing impact of Alpha in Denmark and some expressed concern.

One academic was astonished at the lack of discussion in Danish churches regarding the content and theology of Alpha. In his view there was a serious danger of this ‘introduction to Christianity’ becoming, in his words, the gospel according to Nicky Gumbel’. This may be an over-exaggeration. Nonetheless, Gumbel, as already noted, has been central in not just the evolution of the programme but in the development of its theological content…

Alpha and Its Critics Criticisms of Alpha are by no means limited to the Holy Spirit weekend; its theology and praxis. There are a number of other wide-ranging critiques too. Indeed, it has to be made clear that by no means all churches or church leaders have warmed to the programme. While it has proved to be very attractive to some, Alpha is strongly disliked by others or at least has been met with suspicion and profound reservations. Perhaps above all, according to my survey of church leaders, it is the charismatic element which has attracted most criticisms. Just as the charismatic movement divided many congregations in the 1960s and 70s, Alpha, mainly because of its doctrinal content, has not infrequently generated the same repercussions.

Exemplifying this rather mixed reception of the programme were events in a Canadian church in 1996. One of the first major Alpha training conferences was held in Canada at St. Paul’s Anglican church in Toronto in September 2003. It attracted 700 participants from a variety of denominations and amounted to the largest conference on evangelism ever organised by a parish church in Canada. The event created a sharp division in the congregation. Many church members were disturbed by the so-called manifestations of the Holy Spirit observed during the conference including speaking in tongues and ‘falling in the Spirit’. Others were concerned with its close ties, via Holy Trinity, Brompton, to the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, and the more questionable aspects of the Toronto Blessing that it promoted and which now seemed to be evident, albeit somewhat diluted, in the Alpha programme.

In several churches I surveyed in the UK, a fair few church members would have nothing to do with the course once it was instigated, or on occasion left the church. Some elders of churches of denominations have been known to resign in opposition to the adoption of Alpha. Critics of Alpha tend to be liberals on the one hand and traditionalists and conservatives on the other. My research interviews with a number of prominent national church leaders, as well as clergyman at the local church level, indicated that while the liberals among them tended to see Alpha as too fundamentalist in orientation, the conservatives, especially Protestant evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and the more traditional Roman Catholics feared its ecumenical stance and its role of bringing in all things charismatic surreptitiously.


The Concern of the Conservatives The attempt to put together a programme on the introductory ‘basics’ of Christianity has proved a difficulty for some Christian constituencies because it attracts a number of expressions of the faith to which they have been historically opposed. This includes the objections of Protestant conservative evangelicals. Their concerns with Alpha’s ecumenical stance will be noted below. Yet, it is also this contingent which has been vehemently opposed not only to the doctrinal content of Alpha but its structure. Although this is not a point put across in evangelical tract, it was certainly evident in several of the interviews that I undertook with such evangelicals. The main objection on this score is perhaps two-fold: the purpose of the Holy Spirit weekend and a tendency for Alpha to assume conversion after ‘guests’ have experienced the weekend. In this respect, one evangelical pastor that I interviewed described the weekend away as ‘notorious’. His objection was aimed at the doctrine and praxis of the Holy Spirit similar to that of Martyn Percy outlined above. At the same time, this pastor suggested that the contrived so-called manifestations of the Holy Spirit were little more than phenomena produced by suggestibility and which, in turn, were interpreted by those involved as the necessary ‘proofs’ of God that followed a mere seven weeks of doctrinal exposition. The rest of the programme that followed the Holy Spirit weekend, according to this pastor, seemed to assume conversion. This was evident, he suggested, in such themes as How can I resist evil?, Why and how should we tell others? and How can I make the most of the rest of my life?

The fear of some conservatives is that although claims to conversion may have taken place, they are not earnest and no real change in lifestyle has occurred. A pastor of an independent church that I spoke to claimed that Alpha amounted to a kind of postmodernist ‘give me now theology’ of ‘I have been through the course, believe, so give me my reward.’

The objections of the conservative Protestant evangelicals to Alpha are probably entirely predictable. Many of their number have lamented the cultural concessions of Alpha in its search for a popular evangelistic programme.

Some have proved to be very aggrieved of the developments. One evangelical outreach which calls itself the Cross and Word Ministries has produced a website headed The Alpha Course. Is it Bible-based or Hell’s Teachings? The focus is upon what is regarded as the connection with the Toronto Blessing, or as it is stated on the website: ‘Alpha is being used to get people to accept the teachings and phenomena associated with the Toronto Blessing’. Also on the world-wide web I came across perhaps the most damning indictment of the programme by a clergyman of a Presbyterian church which described Alpha as ‘the course from the belly of the pit of hell!’

A general feeling of even the more moderate conservatives is that Alpha undermines the basic tenets of the gospel, plays down the significance of sin and guilt and the need for redemption in favour of the ‘feel good’ factor that is part of the general cultural drift of the churches today. Another pastor I interviewed put it this way: ‘Alpha is a course for the post-modern society where practically any form of morality is acceptable. Hence, Alpha has little emphasis on sin or guilt.’ Being relevant to modern man and engaging people ‘where they are’, the conservatives argue, fails to recognise the need for genuine repentance. The views of this quarter of Christendom are quite evident on various websites where there are constant complaints that Alpha has ‘sold out’ to contemporary culture. An evangelical writer Chris Hand has produced a small publication entitled Is Alpha Leading People Astray? in that it gives too many concessions to the contemporary world and thus distorts the biblical account of Christ. He writes ‘The God of Alpha is not the God of the Bible, the plight of man in Alpha is not as serious as in the Bible, and the Jesus Christ of Alpha is not the Jesus Christ of the Bible’ (Hand 1999).

Similar points are made by Colin Mercer in a booklet foreworded by Dr Ian Paisley (a Presbyterian minister and for many years the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland). In The Alpha Course Examined, Mercer takes Alpha to account not only because of its broad ecumenicalism, but in regard to its weakness on sin, the emphasis on self, feelings instead of faith, remorse instead of repentance, and sensationalism instead of sanctification, This kind of comment, if rather shrill at times, is certainly congruent with the observation of James Hunter (1987), a long-time observer of contemporary evangelism, who argues that evangelical Christianity, even in very conservative forms, is increasingly in line with contemporary culture. There is a growing tendency not to convict people or to make them feel unduly comfortable. This is accompanied, according to Hunter, by a growing preoccupation with self and self-fulfilment, with feeling and emotion rather than traditional doctrine of repentance. While such developments may be lamented by conservative evangelicals, for Hunter this is probably the only means by which Christianity will survive in the contemporary age.

My research indicates that Conservative Protestants in the UK, particularly of an evangelical variety, have taken the theological high ground and used Alpha as an opportunity to savage some of their long-time enemies, namely charismatics and Roman Catholics. That Alpha also appeals to Roman Catholics is a cause of lament for the conservative Protestant evangelicals. One website carries the view that Alpha is ‘moving Roman Catholics into a tighter embrace of Rome’s falsehoods.’ Others have been concerned with the lack of stress on sin and repentance: that the broad approach is more to do with a therapeutic culture, and that no real conversion takes place. Yet another pastor I interviewed expressed such concerns in this way: ‘We find it [Alpha] over-manipulative, man-centred, minimalising the sin question and over-emphasising the charismatic element, especially with the notorious Holy Spirit weekend. The fact that Roman Catholic churches can use it without any qualms demonstrates its dismal lack of doctrinal content.’

Alpha and Roman Catholic Constituency The quarterly Alpha News newspaper is very keen to stress the impact of Alpha on Catholic churches and frequently stresses what this or that dignitary high up the Catholic hierarchy has to say regarding the merits of Alpha or their involvement at Alpha international conferences. For instance, it reports the attendance of fifty-five bishops and cardinals at a conference of 10,000 people where Gumbel spoke in Stuttgart, Germany, in May 2004. However, not all Roman Catholics warm to Alpha, while those who adopt it are likely to modify it at the grass-roots level in order to customise the programme for the needs of their local church specifically and the Catholic church in general. While Protestant critics may believe that Alpha enforces traditional Catholic beliefs, it is my observation that local Catholic course leaders who negotiate their way with Alpha tend to play down the theology, history and cultural trappings of Catholicism. Partly this is because they are more concerned with the charismatic component, and partly there is the attempt to be ecumenical and appeal to a wider audience. References to Papal proclamations, Hail Mary, the Sacred Heart, the stress on the Eucharist, and all things related to the Catholic tradition, are deliberately given a low profile. The concerns of more traditional Roman Catholics are perhaps therefore understandable.

Alpha can, however, advance the Catholic cause. Certainly, a fair few of the priests that I interviewed allowed Alpha to proceed because of its potential to reverse the decline in church membership and attendance. It was thus interpreted as a proselytising tool and as a means of returning backsliders. At the same time, as many interviewees claimed, it could enforce traditional moral teachings related to sex before marriage and the virtues of family life. In many respect Alpha, as administered in the Catholic churches, does seem to consolidate a particular version of the faith. To this end the Catholic church has produced the booklet ‘How to Support Alpha for Roman Catholics’. The publication does not claim to advocate a Catholic version of Alpha. Rather, it is aimed towards answering the kind of questions that Catholics ask about the course. As it declares, it is directed at ‘allaying fears that Alpha is not doctrinally sound or is too evangelical’. The Catholic Alpha Office (established in 1996) has also produced two videos directed at Roman Catholics within the context of Alpha: ‘Why should I listen to the Church?’ and ‘Why should I go to Mass?’

While Alpha has its advocates, there are elements within the Roman Catholic church who express substantial concerns but for predictably different reasons than the Protestant conservative evangelicals. Certainly there are those traditionalists who articulate concerns with the charismatic element. There are other objections too. Although they are not vehemently outspoken, several bishops in the UK and USA are believed to be extremely apprehensive about the spread of Alpha and its incursion into their diocese. For these men Alpha, because of its origin and by way of some of its Protestant teachings, constitutes ‘matter out of place’ – to use Mary Douglas’s concept (Douglas 1966). Hence, for some Roman Catholics Alpha is not only carries ecumenical dangers but amounts to a form of ‘creeping Protestantism’. Even the Pope is known to be concerned by its origins at HTB despite his more cordial communications with Alpha conferences and granting an audience with Nicky Gumbel.

A number of the group leaders whom I have spoken to frequently expressed the view that Alpha was something of an anathema in their church and this did not dovetail well with Catholic traditions or ways of doing things. One leader in a parish church was concerned that the Head of Religious Formation (responsible for Roman Catholic dogma) in his diocese had expressed grave reservations because Alpha was not sufficiently Roman Catholic in its theological component. At the same time, leading Catholic figures in the charismatic movement are discernibly more enthusiastic about the programme and not infrequently contribute to its wealth of literature.

As with the Protestant churches, the impact of Alpha has been mixed in Catholic circles. In the UK it is evident that some 400 Catholic churches are running Alpha. However, the impression I received from my national survey was that in many parishes Alpha was run as a fringe group activity which, in many cases, was only reluctantly supported. Rarely, in my findings at least, would an Alpha group in a Catholic parish church act in co-operation with Protestant churches in the area who were administering a course. Since Alpha is run twice a year, practically simultaneously in the UK, there is scope for churches to co-operate. Rarely are Catholic churches involved. They also generally run their own Holy Spirit weekends, the teaching content of which may include a strong Catholic bias. In this way local churches would seem to undermine the McDonaldisation tendencies of Alpha.

It is certainly the case that some Catholic congregations advertise Alpha on large billboards in the front of the church. But this too is rare. The majority will pin smaller adverts advertising a forthcoming course, thus only observable to parishioners. While it is true that in Catholic churches Alpha course leaders are generally left to their own devices, it is often swamped by other activities. This has the affect of minimalising Alpha’s impact, while many course leaders are apprehensive about ‘going public’ and often fail to invite ‘guests’ who are not Catholic. Subsequently the Alpha programme is frequently ‘in house’ and limited to church members themselves. My broad feeling is that there exists a general confusion or at least concern among some Roman Catholics. Lively debates can be found in parish and diocese newspapers regarding the merits of Alpha. In Catholic churches, similarly to Protestant churches, it is the charismatic faction that may readily embrace and run Alpha. In this respect it is likely to be the parish priest who will be the final arbiter as to whether or not it will be offered. Other priests, however, may be adamantly opposed to its introduction. On some occasions, as my research revealed, lay people who are enthusiastic about Alpha may actually change parish church if it is not supported by the priest in the usual one attended, while other parishioners may go about church life oblivious to the fact that Alpha is running in their church.

To conclude: there may be a contradiction in the way that Alpha is run in Catholic churches. As suggested, it may well be that the priesthood is the final arbiter as to whether Alpha runs or not and that a parish priest is likely to agree only on the assumption that the course advances traditional Catholicism. However, at the grass root level, Alpha as run by parishioners, traditional aspects may be played down in favour of a more ecumenical and charismatic stance. It may follow, therefore, that the extent to which Alpha is advanced in Catholic churches in the future will be contingent on its perceived merit: should it advance traditional Catholicism or is it more an instrument in the cause of renewal and ecumenism? In Catholic circles the debate on Alpha’s merit will undoubtedly continue and it is likely that it will never gain full acceptance.


The Liberal Critique From the other end of the spectrum liberal theologians and churchman have criticised Alpha because it may be perceived as essentially fundamentalist in nature since it regards scriptural text as spiritual truths and absolute tenets of faith. At the very least liberals argue that Alpha promotes one view of Christianity at the expense of others. Evidence of this is said to be Alpha’s promotion of celibacy outside of marriage and the suggestion that it generally fails to deal adequately with what are clearly sensitive topics. Examples of this are its attitude towards homosexuality and abortion of which Alpha literature are uncompromisingly critical, with little discussion of the complex issues involved (Hunt 2004, 24-6)). Another area Alpha neglects is said to be women’s issues (although Alpha is tolerant of women’s ordination). Mary Robins, an assistant priest at St. James’s Piccadilly
*, London (internationally renowned because of its active campaigns against fundamentalism) conferred to me her opinion in an interview that ‘Alpha courses are very black-and-white. I find them very rigid in their view of what it is like to be a woman.’ *A “New Age” church- SEE Alternatives at St James’ Church Piccadilly. The New Age in London
http://www.iawwai.com/CultsSects.htm Michael

Indeed, while the Alpha literature has little to say on the subject, it does tend to promote traditional female roles in the home and female sexuality. According to liberal critics, furthermore, Alpha is selective in its ‘basic’ Christianity and that what is excluded in the programme, by way of exposition, is as important as what is included. The Alpha programme, so it is argued has little to say in terms of a social gospel. There is scarce attention to feeding and clothing the poor, in advancing social justice, of debates about unemployment, and the negative repercussions of globalisation. In the same interview, Mary Robins commented on the money which was spent on the first national Alpha initiative, stating that ‘if my church had £1 million to spend we would use it to set up day centres and support the Jubilee campaign to get rid of Third World debt.

While there is a moral condemnation of high divorce and abortion rates, the rising number of unmarried mothers and the decline of the family, there is next to nothing said in the Alpha programme about mass unemployment, the evils of materialism, or Third World issues. Very little justice is done, so it is observed by the liberals, to the complexity of Christian ethics – the basis of a just war and similar issues. These themes may be discussed on an Alpha course if someone wishes to raise them, but are not straightaway offered as vital ingredients of Christianity. Hence in terms of its content, some liberal critics complain that Alpha has nothing inherent to it which approaches a social gospel. Perhaps the closest it comes to a social conscience is evident in Gumbel’s book Challenging Lives which includes the brief chapter ‘How to Have an Influence on Society’. The chapter is mostly based on the Sermon on the Mount and the social consequences on society of striving to be meek, pure in heart, righteous and so on.

However, much is implicit, vague, and over-simplified rather than a systematic treatment of important issues. There is no coherent social programme – certainly nothing amounting to a clear political agenda. The key question which comes out of this discussion is what has led to particular topics advanced as representing ‘basic Christianity?’ Who decides what is included under the rubric of each theme and what is excluded? Who is the final arbiter? It can only be surmised that it is Nicky Gumbel himself. The situation is, however, more complex since the programme is partly ‘consumer’ driven. To some extent its content is orientated to answering certain fundamental questions. HTB has conducted ongoing research over a number of years to find out what issues are important to Alpha guests. Hence, we might assume that some topics on the course will take into account the ‘consumer demand’ (Hunt 2004, 145-57). Secondly, given its ecumenical and all-embracing nature, Alpha is meant to be as broad and inclusive as possible. It is not denominational specific and is intended to be user-friendly to all Christian traditions, calculated not to offend Roman Catholics or Protestants of different persuasions. It is, for its advocates, a basic and simple introduction to the Christian faith which steers clear of controversies such as infant baptism.

While it might be ecumenical, liberal critics have taken the Alpha course to task over the way they perceive it to be largely fundamentalist in tone and its tendency to simplify issues. For the theologian and sociologist, Martyn Percy, the content of the programme shows that Alpha amounts to a fairly crude form of evangelical fundamentalism (Percy 1998). Percy is concerned with what is not included in the course in terms of historical Christianity. The subjects discussed are not, crucially, the Trinity, baptism, communion or community which might, despite the claims of Alpha to be ecumenical, be more appropriate to the needs of some Christian traditions. Rather the core concerns are with the charismatic teachings of the Holy Spirit, healing, and the powers of evil. Moreover, for Percy, Alpha advances Christianity as an uncontextual project that is ‘learned’ through an over-simplified course offering certain types of (charismatic) knowledge and experience. In essence, it is sold and marketed effectively but sometimes gives the impression of offering a cheap package deal or endeavours to provide ‘a bargain-break weekend for two in eternity’ (Percy 1998, 16). Alpha does not seriously attempt to encourage any great degree of discussion. Rather, it sets and answers its own questions. It tends to over-simplify thoughtful critiques of Christianity and then destroys them in a rather brutal and unsophisticated way. This is evident in the supporting literature. There is a broad discussion throughout the programme, but not sufficiently to do justice to complicated issues. It is then, in its own way, hermetically fail safe.

Liberal critics are also concerned with Alpha’s general cultural orientation. In this respect, Martyn Percy has underlined the over-emphasis in the Alpha programme on the Holy Spirit and its link to healing and all-things therapeutic. While this alleged unbalance may result from charismatic theology, it is also, he deduces, because Alpha is a product of time and place: ‘The Spirit on offer obviously arises from a personable, therapeutic, Home counties context that is concerned with the individual’ (Percy 1998). According to Percy, this focus upon the individual as the receptacle of the Holy Spirit is at the cost of his wider work in creation, justice, peace and reconciliation. This is because, he asserts, those who put the course together reflect the elite, upper middle-class outlook of HTB which has also enculturated the gospel for the needs of a distinct clientele rather than for a wide audience. Alpha may attempt to be relevant to modern man but, as clearly seen in its theology of the Holy Spirit, it is anchored in a particular cultural environment and Christian milieu constituted largely by middle-class charismatics and is, theologically-speaking, far from ecumenical. For Percy, Alpha does not generate a broad appeal. Its intellectual level, cultural trappings and general image is more likely to be suited to what he describes as ‘middle-England’ – the relatively well-educated and at least moderately affluent.

Conclusion: Towards a Discussion of the Alpha Programme …[T]he fieldwork has highlighted the key objections of liberals, conservative evangelicals, and Catholic traditionalists. The criticisms of Alpha are not widespread but they are damaging… Much of the supportive literature of Alpha is full of self-laudation regarding its growth and wide appeal. The reality is that Alpha often over-estimates its own success. I would argue that this is not only in terms of winning converts but its claim to an uncritical acceptance. Certainly, claims to its wide appeal stem from the enduring hope that the programme is ecumenical in scope. Controversial topics tend to be played down although Alpha has clear and uncompromising views on such subjects as homosexuality. At the same time the theology which constitutes ‘basic’ Christianity is both explicit and implicit charismatic in orientation. If it is true that Alpha is not winning a substantial number of converts, then its net affect may be to further extend charismatic theology and practice to mainline denominational and independent churches. However, it is a diluted form of neo-Pentecostalism that has long abandoned such contentious dogma as the ‘second baptism in the Spirit’ and the insistence on converts speaking in tongues even though it is highlighted in Alpha as a virtue. Nonetheless, the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, healing and spiritual warfare is there for all to see, as is the Ministry Time which sits at the centre-piece of the Holy Spirit weekend away. …The appeal of Alpha to the mainline churches is clear. The programme employs a theological simplicity which is not denominational specific. It is an unsophisticated theological package which can be exported to many contexts. For that reason it exposes itself to the critics of its exponents. For the liberals its simplicity means that complex issues are not sufficiently discussed. For conservatives and traditionalists it ignores conventions within the historical Church and fails to explore the richness of biblical doctrine in its rush to be culturally conforming. There is more to consider however, concerning Alpha’s ‘basic Christianity’. Its charismatic slant is all too evident. Perhaps this is understandable given the possibility that a much-diluted charismatic theology and praxis is observably the mainstay of many mainline denominations in Western countries. The attraction of Alpha is thus understandable: it has a ‘customer’ appeal.

Moreover, even seasoned charismatics have lamented the paltry content of what passes as ‘charismatic theology’ (cf. Smail 1995). In that sense charismatic theology lends itself to the simplistic nature of Alpha which, according to many of its critics, would appear to be a spiritual ‘drive-through’ in true McDonalds fashion.

I NOW REPRODUCE, EITHER IN FULL OR IN PART, CRITIQUES FROM ACROSS THE SPECTRUM OF CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS. THE IDEA IS TO PROVIDE THE READER WITH AS WIDE A RANGE OF CRITICISMS OF ALPHA AS IS POSSIBLE.

I WISH TO STATE IN ADVANCE THAT, JUST BECAUSE A CRITIQUE IS INCLUDED HERE, IT MUST NOT BE ASSUMED THAT I SUBSCRIBE TO THE VIEWS OF ITS AUTHOR.

THE READER WILL NOTE THAT SOME EVANGELICALS OPPOSE ALPHA SIMPLY BECAUSE ALPHA HAS FOUND ACCEPTANCE AMONG [SOME] ROMAN CATHOLICS. OTHERS BELIEVE THAT ROME HAS FOUND IN ALPHA A CONVENIENT VEHICLE TO ‘DISSEMINATE ITS ERRORS’ [‘SALVATION BY WORKS’, ECUMENISM, ETC.] AMONG PROTESTANTS.

ALPHA IS CHARGED WITH “LACK OF BIBLICAL TEACHING”. THE CHARGE AGAINST ALPHA OF “FALSE TEACHING” IS NOT UNEXPECTED BECAUSE NO TWO PROTESTANT CHURCHES AGREE WITH EACH OTHER WHICH IS WHY THE PROLIFERATION OF ‘CHURCHES’.

THERE ARE THOSE CRITICS WHO HAVE LABELED ALPHA AS “SATANIC”. SOME FIND ALPHA TO HOLD TO DOMINIONISM, WORD-FAITH THEOLOGY AND THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL.

ALPHA IS ACCUSED OF BEING NEW AGE BY PROTESTANT AND CATHOLIC [page 10] ALIKE.

ANTI-CHARISMATIC PROTESTANTS [AS EVEN MANY CONSERVATIVE CATHOLICS MIGHT, page 109] REJECT ALPHA BECAUSE OF THE DOMINANT EMPHASIS IN THE COURSE ON THE USE OF CHARISMATIC PHENOMENA, STILL OTHERS BECAUSE OF ITS ORIGINS AT THE CONTROVERSIAL LONDON’S HOLY TRINITY BROMPTON [HTB] ANGLICAN CHURCH, AND BY EXTENSION TO THE ‘TORONTO BLESSING’ OF JOHN WIMBER’S VINEYARD CHURCH, A PENTECOSTAL ASSEMBLY FROM WHICH HTB ‘CAUGHT’ ‘THE BLESSING’. [CATHOLIC READERS, ESPECIALLY CHARISMATICS, SHOULD CAREFULLY EXAMINE THE ‘THEOLOGY’ OF JOHN WIMBER, NICKY GUMBEL’S MENTOR, AND THE TORONTO BLESSING, TO HAVE A FULLER APPRECIATION OF THE INHERENT THREATS IN SOME OF THE ALPHA COURSE COMPONENTS].

MANY FIND A NON-NEGOTIABLE PROBLEM WITH THE BROAD ECUMENICAL STANCE OF ALPHA, AGAIN PERCEIVING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AS A THREAT TO THE FRUITS OF THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION BECAUSE OF HER EMBRACE OF ALPHA IN SOME QUARTERS.

THE READER IS ALSO CAUTIONED AGAINST THE RABID ANTI-CATHOLICISM IN THE ARGUMENTS OF SOME OF THE CRITIQUES BELOW [I HAVE MARKED EACH OF THEM WITH THREE RED STARS***.] IF I DID NOT INCLUDE THEM, I WOULD NOT BE DOING JUSTICE TO THIS STUDY. SOME ELEMENTS IN THE PROTESTANT CRITICISMS CAN BE ACCEPTABLE.

MY VIEWS ON ALPHA WILL BE THOSE THAT ARE HELD BY CATHOLIC WRITERS LIKE R.J. GRIGAITIS [SEE PAGES 117 ff.] WHO DEMONSTRATES THAT ALPHA‘S TEACHINGS ARE BASED ON A HERETICAL UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE, INTERPRETATION OF BIBLICAL REVELATION, TRADITION, TEACHING AUTHORITY, ETC. THESE LED TO THE REFORMATION AND EVENTUALLY TO THE ANTI-WITNESS OF A MULTIPLICITY OF CHURCHES AS AGAINST THE UNITY AMONG HIS FOLLOWERS THAT JESUS PRAYED FOR AND WHICH ALPHA NOW SEEKS TO RESTORE WHILE STILL HOLDING ON TO HERESY.

WHILE MANY OF THE POSITIVES OF ALPHA CANNOT BE DENIED, THEY ARE NOT SUFFICIENT REASON FOR A CATHOLIC TO EMBRACE SPIRITUAL TOOLS THAT HAVE BEEN FABRICATED BASED ON FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS, EVEN IF THEY RESULT IN CONVERSION OR EVANGELISATION. ASK ME. I’M AN ENGINEER.

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING CATHOLIC AND BEING PROTESTANT, AND ANY CATHOLIC APOLOGIST WILL TELL YOU THAT. ASK ME. I’M ONE.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH LACKS NOTHING BUT HAS THE FULLNESS OF TRUTH AND GRACE THAT THE BREAKAWAY CHURCHES CAN NEVER HOPE TO POSSESS UNTIL THEY RETURN TO THE FOLD. ALPHA DOES NOT HAVE THE EUCHARIST, MARY, THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS…

ALPHA‘S TEACHINGS ON ECCLESIOLOGY, ON BEING BORN AGAIN, ON THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, ETC., ARE NOT IN LINE WITH THOSE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. THE READER WILL REALIZE SOME OF THESE TRUTHS, AND MORE, FIRST WHEN READING THE PROTESTANT CRITIQUES BELOW AND THE CATHOLIC CRITIQUES THAT FOLLOW LATER.

I. The Dangers Of The Alpha Course***

http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/alpha.html

The Alpha Course is a course that has been used by many as a way to attempt to introduce the false doctrines and practices of the Third Wave into mainstream denominations.

I was dumbfounded when I found out some of the people who endorse this course.  Among them were the Salvation Army and, most notably, Luis Palau.

Here is his endorsement that is featured on the Alpha Course web page:

“Alpha seems especially blessed in that the Lord is using it to reach all sorts of people in all sorts of spiritual condition.” (http://www.alphana.org/alendo01.htm)

The Alpha Course, though teaching some truth, also lays truth alongside error. The wooing of people using the gospel message, only to later enslave them in ritualism, works salvation, and occult manifestations is one of the great deceptions of our time. One of the cleverest ploys of the enemy in our day is to allow “unprincipled” men to use the salvation message as an enticement to unsuspecting and untrained people, while they secretly introduce false doctrine, thereby giving “the devil a foothold” for fleshly manifestations and temptations in their lives.

The men who designed this course are laying error alongside truth, introducing error secretly (“pareisaxousinin” in Greek) the result of which will ruin the faith of the believer in the end. The Bible says of this process:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1)

Beware of the Alpha Course!

Perhaps the preachers and evangelists who have endorsed this course need to take a longer look at their Bibles. Jesus NEVER laid hands on his disciples, the result of which were “manifestations” of uncontrollable laughter, mayhem, shaking, animal noises, vomiting, or any of the other demonic disorder of the Toronto and Brownsville “things”. Luis Palau, of all people, had better wake up to this deception that is sweeping the churches of Europe and is now being used around the world.

For a good critique on the dangers of this course, visit this web site:

The Alpha Course by Chris Hand http://www.banner.org.uk/misc/alpha.html
[see page 41]

Also, ready this analysis at the same site:

Alpha Course Goes Nationwide In Britain by Tricia Tillin*
http://www.banner.org.uk/news/9804.html#Alpha

Following are two e-mails, then an article detailing the dangers of the Alpha Course. *below

The first e-mail confirms that Luis Palau has indeed endorsed this dangerous course.

The second alerts Christians to the fact the Church of Rome is now using the course for its own purposes.

The article following is a critique of the Alpha Course.  We hope you will find this information useful when some member of your church attempts to introduce this course into your church!


From D. C.
Alpha 10-3-98

Blessings!

The foundations of the Alpha course were originally laid in 1979 through the work of Charles Marnham. During his time at Holy Trinity Brompton in west London (one of the main proponents of the Toronto “Blessing” and where Steve Hill of Brownsville picked up his ability to “slay people in the spirit”), he sought to devise a course to look at the basics of the Christian faith in a way that would be helpful to new Christians.

After Marnham’s initial input, Alpha gradually evolved. One of the key figures in this and the main architect of the Alpha course as it now exists is Nicky Gumbel, currently curate at Holy Trinity Brompton. It was through Gumbel’s vision and work that Alpha grew to have the impact it has today.

Alpha has some well-known champions and supporters……

George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury
David Hope, the Archbishop of York
Alistair McGrath of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and Regent College, Vancouver
Luis Palau, international evangelist

J.I. Packer of Regent College, Vancouver
The late John Wimber of the Vineyard churches
R.T. Kendall of Westminster Chapel
Joel Edwards of the Evangelical Alliance

Interesting to say the least… beloved let us discern the times!


From I.C.
Alpha 10-2-98

Dear Friends,

The plot thickens and yet becomes at the same time more clear. This note concerns what we already know about Alpha courses, and two recent reports in the Daily Telegraph. The first DT item was on 30th September, page10, about the World Council of Churches. The second on 1st October, about the Church of Rome and the Eucharist.

We all (I hope) know that Alpha has become a front for both Ecumenism and Toronto. It is therefore not surprising that its Theological content is lacking in many respects. Any course that can appeal to the range of traditions and denominations that Alpha does; must of necessity sacrifice many essential truths. It is to be expected, and yet sad to observe, so many “evangelicals” going happily and willingly down this “broad” road. This fact alone, of course, begs the question: just exactly what is an evangelical today?  It is suggested by this aspect of Alpha alone, that every evangelical participating in Alpha, is betraying the very Gospel they claim to uphold. When people ask me how can I be so critical of something of which I have no personal experience; my usual reply is that I do not need to put my hand into a fire to prove if it will burn.

The second aspect of my note is about the Roman Catholic position in ecumenical matters. Here again most evangelicals must be either blind or ignorant of Rome’s way of doing things. Rome has never changed one iota of the articles of the Council of Trent. Her attitude has always been one of waiting and persuading all to return to the “One True Church”. While everyone else it seems is only too willing to compromise in the ecumenical cause, Rome has steadfastly given nothing away. It never ceases to amaze me, that so many think Rome is somehow different since Vatican 2. This is the cleverness of the Roman system. She lulls everyone into a sense of false security before swallowing them up. Just look at how many of our institutional churches and others are making overtures to Rome, and you begin to see how successful Rome has been. She lulls everyone into thinking she is sharing, when all the time she is taking over. This is why Alpha is a ready tool for Rome to exploit. While everyone is enjoying a meal and warm company, totally unaware of what is really going on under their very noses.

A further point to notice since the Songs of Praise program devoted to Alpha is the dishonesty of the propaganda. Did any of you notice how Alpha’s history was glossed over in half a sentence; and how Nicky Gumbel was strangely absent in voice? You have to admit the propagandists have done a very skillful piece of work, but then this is precisely what you would expect from something that will be a major factor in the World Church scene.

To speak against Alpha is being made very difficult, but is all the more necessary. We see churches and fellowships going headlong into this abyss, but some will listen and be saved, and so we carry on. Incidentally, I just received in today’s post a leaflet from the Salvation Army promoting Alpha for young people.

God help us all. God bless you all,

Looking at – THE ALPHA COURSE*** by Tricia Tillin

http://www.banner.org.uk/ms/ms2962.html

The following article appeared in The Times, 11 May 1996,

WOMAN LEADS CHURCH BOYCOTT IN ROW OVER EVANGELICAL PIG-SNORTING

A woman has walked out of her church and is holding services in her living room, because she says she cannot bring herself to “snort like a pig and bark like a dog” on a Church of England course.

Angie Golding, 50, claims she was denied confirmation unless she signed up for the Alpha course, which she

says is a “brainwashing” exercise where participants speak in tongues, make animal noises and then fall over.

She has left the evangelical St Marks in Broadwater Down, Kent, with 14 members of the congregation and founded a church at home in Tunbridge Wells. She said: “I’ll be a fool for the Lord any day, but I won’t be a fool for man.” However, the church last night denied that she had been refused confirmation, and course organisers said she had misunderstood the nature of the event… “St Mark’s is running an Alpha course at the moment which a number of people are attending. Those being confirmed this summer are attending the course as well.”

Mark Elsdon-Drew, of Holy Trinity Brompton, said the Alpha course included lectures on the Holy Spirit. “It affects different people in different ways.” He said the course had the “overwhelming support” of Church leaders and theologians: “The suggestion of animal noises in connection with the course is unwarranted and could not have been made by anyone who is familiar with the material.”

Everyone is asking “What about Alpha?” What is it, and what are we to believe about it?

The Alpha course is an evangelistic initiative begun by Holy Trinity Brompton – perhaps better known now for its promotion of the Toronto Blessing.

The official history of the Alpha Course begins 16 years ago when a member of HTB, Charles Marnham, set up an informal home group to present answers to basic gospel questions. However, HTB curate, Nicky Gumbel, transformed the course into what we see today [see endnote]. It is designed to appeal to non-believers, with every detail – the food, flowers, hospitality and questions – aimed at disarming the unchurched.

The final weekend away is a vital part of the course – and this has attracted the most criticism, as it gives a chance for the leaders, if they are so disposed, to present the Holy Spirit in an experimental fashion to a captive audience. The course always ends with a Supper laid on to which more non-believers are invited, and so the process continues.

Whatever else can be said about the Alpha Course, it has been a runaway success.

In 1991 there were just four courses involving 600 people; in 1993 there were fewer than 10 courses being held in Britain. Now there are an estimated 3,000 being run regularly three times a year, more than 500 of them overseas. These are being run by every denomination, including Catholic.

One difficulty in pinning down the problems with the Alpha Course is that each church running the course will use the materials in a different way. Thus it is feasible, in theory at least, that a church might avoid all controversy and simply use the course to preach the gospel to unbelievers. This does leave unanswered the question – why does any church need to buy a course to be able to preach the gospel?

However, there are deep concerns. Below I present some thoughts on the Alpha Course by a Christian (i) who grew alarmed when viewing the course materials. It is a personal view but I believe it speaks for many.

Alpha certainly starts by preaching the gospel; the first three talks on video One focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the three talks on video Two which cover fundamental steps for new Christians, such as ‘How can I be sure of my faith?’, ‘Why and how should I read the Bible?’ and ‘Why and how should I pray?’ are all good. But as the course progresses, some of the talks tend to wander off into lengthy accounts of HTB’s experiences of the Toronto Blessing and associated ministries, novel exegeses of various Biblical passages common amongst pro-Toronto preachers, calls for unity despite truth and an over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit, all of which are less than helpful, to say the least, to potential Christians.

Clearly the aim is to bring as many into God’s Kingdom as possible but by the end of the course I cannot help feeling that the Toronto Blessing may have been the greater beneficiary.

The Alpha course was virtually unknown until Eleanor Mumford of the South-West London Vineyard church brought the Toronto Blessing from the Toronto Airport Vineyard church in Canada to HTB, via Nicky Gumbel in May 1994, (ii) and Nicky Gumbel spends a substantial amount of time relating to Alpha participants in video 3 talk 9, exactly how it occurred:

“Ellie Mumford told us a little bit of what she had seen in Toronto… It was obvious that Ellie was just dying to pray for all of us… then she said ‘Now we’ll invite the Holy Spirit to come.’ and the moment she said that one of the people there was thrown, literally, across the room and was lying on the floor, just howling and laughing… making the most incredible noise… I experienced the power of the Spirit in a way I hadn’t experienced for years,

like massive electricity going through my body… One of the guys was prophesying. He was just lying there prophesying…”

Gumbel’s description of the antics that went on in the vestry of HTB after their invocation of the Spirit seems to me to bear no resemblance at all to what happened on the day of Pentecost. (iii)

Yet Alpha participants are being taught all this as part of an evangelistic/Christian Living course as though it is normal and desirable, with absolutely no mention made of the need to test the spirits (1 John 4:3), and at the end of this talk are prayed for, corporately, to receive it. Thus, they are initiated into the Toronto Blessing without a whimper of protest amongst them.

“I believe it is no coincidence that the present movement of the Holy Spirit (TB) has come at the same time as the explosion of the Alpha Courses. I think the two go together.” [Nicky Gumbel, ‘The
Spirit and Evangelism‘, Renewal, May 1995, page 15].

So one of my concerns is whether the TB, which is being experienced at HTB, can possibly be divorced from the Alpha Initiative. In view of the similarities of emphasis and content between the two, I’m not sure that it can. Alpha also promotes, as does the leadership of the TB, ‘unity’ between Protestants and Roman Catholics, with no consideration, or perhaps realisation, of the unreconcileable doctrines of the two Churches, and so another concern is its trend towards ecumenism.

POWER EVANGELISM

Heavily influenced by the ‘Signs and Wonders’ ministry of John Wimber in the 1980s, power evangelism has been one of the preparation grounds for the Toronto Experience. It focuses on a pragmatic/experiential rather than a

proclamatory/doctrinal approach to spreading the gospel. As such it tends to shift the focus away from the shed blood of Jesus on the cross and onto the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit carried out by men. This is the method of evangelism favoured by Alpha. [Telling Others pages 21-24; 29-31].

ALPHA AND THE NEW AGE

All of this heightened interest amongst Charismatic Christians in ‘Signs and Wonders’ and the supernatural experiences of the Toronto Blessing is a reflection of spiritual and cultural changes going on outside Christianity, in which New Age experiential mysticism predominates.

Nicky Gumbel is aware of this paradigm shift from reason to experience: “In the Enlightenment reason ruled supreme and explanation led to experience. In the present transitional culture, with its ‘pick-and-mix’ worldview in which the New Age movement is a potent strand, experiences lead to explanation”. [Nicky Gumbel, Telling Others, page 19].

Post-Christian neo-mysticism is already so pervasive that virtually every non-christian participant of Alpha – or any other evangelistic initiative – will reflect to some degree New Age thinking. In New Age philosophy “experiences lead to explanation” yet, like the Toronto Experience, the thrust of Alpha is towards the experiential, not the written Word. One pastor who has made use of the Alpha course writes: “One of the problems of proclaiming the gospel in a post-modern world is that culture itself warms much more readily to lifestyle than to doctrine. But the Christian lifestyle is not Christian faith… I am sure that many people are being converted through the Alpha course, but I have a suspicion that some of those people are being converted to a Christian lifestyle rather than to Christ.” [Ian Lewis, ‘The
Alpha Course‘, Evangelicals Now, December 1995].

The two testimonies given by Alpha participants at the beginning of the first Alpha video are prime examples of this. There are certain basic elements one would expect to hear in a classic conversion testimony: the conviction of sin leading to repentance and subsequent assurance of God’s forgiveness and salvation through the death on the cross of Jesus Christ. But these are not there in any form in these two testimonies.

A relationship with God is referred to, as is the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, prayer, an interest in Bible reading, church-going, Christianity and what Alpha has done for them. But Jesus and what He has done for them and a relationship with Him is not mentioned at all. Yet the Lord Jesus is the gospel, He is salvation, He is their new life so how can He possibly be so completely overlooked in a basic conversion testimony?

Adherents of false religions claim a relationship with God, and a prayer life, but they are not saved. Many church goers read their Bibles and have an interest in church and in Christianity, but they are not saved.

Likewise, more compassion/understanding at work, more patience, tolerance, confidence and deep feelings of contentment can equally well be produced by a sense of psychological well-being. Without the cross they do not constitute salvation. The attempt by Nicky Gumbel to bring Jesus into the testimonies by asking exactly what had made these differences was met with a blank look and the response: “Just the relationship that I’ve developed with God. Simple as that.”

These testimonies seemed to me to be, as Ian Lewis suggests, only evidence of conversion to a Christian lifestyle, not to Christ. And when the “Christian lifestyle” is an endless round of blessings’, supernatural experiences’, spiritual ‘parties’ [see video talk 14] and ‘play’-times (iv), then the transition from the counterfeit spirituality of the New Age to Christianity is really only one of degree, not kind. In which case I would echo the question of one evangelical minister who asked: “What is it they are converted to?”

EVANGELISM OR CHRISTIAN LIVING?

“Scripture tells us that salvation comes through hearing the gospel, and I would expect any course aimed at non-christians to concentrate primarily on the facts of the gospel. The Alpha course deals with the basics of the gospel in two sessions…

While these are unequivocal gospel presentations, the remainder of the course deals essentially with what may be described as Christian living… When we used an adapted version of the course in our church, non-christians were left behind by about the sixth week. They still had very fundamental questions about what Christians believe, which were not answered by talking about how Christians live and for this reason the course seemed more suited to people who have already made a commitment to Christ.” [Ian Lewis, Evangelicals Now, December 1995].

THE HOLY SPIRIT WEEKEND

White Alpha training manual pages 26-36/Video III talks 7-9 “We live in the age of the Spirit.” [page 29].

Christians have always referred to the period of time between the first and second advents as the age of Grace, or the Church age. That has not changed. Why encourage now, in such a precarious spiritual climate, the New Age concept of the Age of Aquarius (the spirit)?

Continuing his observations on the New Age Nicky Gumbel writes: “I have found on Alpha that those from an essentially enlightened background feel at home with the parts of the course which appeal to the mind, but often have difficulty in experiencing the Holy Spirit. Others coming from the New Age movement find that rational and historical explanations leave them cold, but at the weekend away they are on more familiar territory in experiencing the Holy Spirit.” [Telling Others, page 19].

But it is the “rational and historical explanations” of sessions l and 2 which are the essence of the gospel (Acts 2:22-41; 6:9-7:60; 8:26-38; 17:16-33) and which the unbeliever must grasp and accept with his mind, under the convicting and illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, if he is to repent and experience salvation in his heart (Romans 10:13,14). Nevertheless: “At the end of the course I send out questionnaires… if there is a change I ask when that change occurred. For many the decisive moment is the Saturday evening of the weekend.” [Telling Others, page 120].

This is the time when Nicky Gumbel invites the Holy Spirit to come and participants are filled with the Spirit. [Telling Others, pages 117, 120, 123; Blue Alpha training manual page18]

I find this extremely worrying. The “decisive moment” should surely be the point at which a person steps over from eternal death to eternal life through the conversion experience (John 3:16; 5:24; Romans 10:9, 10, 13 and other refs). But most of the testimonies in ‘Telling Others’ seem to confuse the experience of conversion with the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

But is this surprising when Nicky Gumbel himself seems to treat conversion as a preliminary to the main event? The breath of new life into a repentant sinner is taught in talk 7, but Nicky Gumbel does not make it clear that this happens at conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17). Rather, he suggests this is due to a second experience: the baptism in the Spirit.

The following testimony is an alarming example of the confusion between conversion and baptism in the Holy Spirit, but it is by no means the only one:

“….my wife encouraged me to read an article in a magazine about the Alpha course at HTB. What had stuck in my mind was how the work of the Holy Spirit was described as of paramount importance. I knew in my heart I had to have his power in my life at any cost. So I… enrolled on the course and focused on the weekend where the work of the Holy Spirit is discussed… Never mind the weeks of pre-med, I just had to get into the operating theatre… I looked at the order of play, saw that the third session on ‘How can I be filled with the Spirit (which I identified as the main one) was at 4:30 pm and simply hung on like a marathon runner weaving his way up the finishing straight with nothing but the finishing tape as the focus of his attention… the prize was so near but we were getting there so slowly. I literally wanted to scream out ‘Do it now! Do it now! I can’t hold out any longer’ I’m not exaggerating when I say I was in agony Then Nicky Gumbel invited the Spirit to come and oh, the relief.” [Interview in Renewal, October1995, page 16; Telling Others pages 36-37].

Though the prayer at the end of these talks includes repentance, the gospel talks are not at this point uppermost in participants’ minds, and the corporate request “inviting the Holy Spirit to come and fill us” is then made by all in the room.

HOW CAN I RESIST EVIL?

Session 9 White Alpha training manual pages 39-45/Video IV Talk 10.

In section II of this session Satan’s tactics are listed: destroys; blinds eyes; causes doubt; tempts; accuses. All of these Gumbel applies to the area of Christian behaviour. Deception, the tactic focusing on belief, is omitted. This oversight can be deadly. Deception concerning doctrine is Satan’s most powerful weapon against the Church and new Christians need to be made aware just how practised Satan is at deceiving Christians through false doctrines and false spiritual experiences. (v) Gumbel points out in this talk that occult activity “always comes under the guise of something good”. The Toronto Blessing is seen as “something good”. How strange then that neither he nor anyone else at HTB thought to test the Toronto spirit before accepting it and then passing it on to everyone else. (vi)

HOW DOES GOD GUIDE US?

Session 10 White Alpha training manual pages 46-51/Video IV Talk 11.

The “Guiding Spirit” and “more unusual ways” of guidance referred to in this talk, especially guidance by angels, need thorough testing against Scripture in today’s religious climate in which false prophets and occult ‘spirit guides’ masquerading as angels of light abound.

A testimony in HTB in FOCUS: ALPHA NEWS, August 1995, in which Jesus is referred to as “a guiding light” (page14), is just an inkling of what may be to come.

DOES GOD HEAL TODAY?

Session 12 White Alpha training manual pages 58-62/Video V Talk 13.

During this talk Nicky Gumbel tells Alpha participants of the visit by John Wimber to HTB in 1982 to demonstrate God’s power to heal. He says: “John Wimber then said ‘We’ve had words of knowledge’ these are supernatural revelations, things that they couldn’t have known otherwise about the conditions of people in the room… specific details were given, accurately describing the conditions… as the list was responded to, the level of faith in the room was rising.”

Gumbel says that he still felt “cynical and hostile” until the following evening when he was prayed for: “So they prayed for the Spirit to come….I felt something like 10,000 volts going through my body… The American had a fairly limited prayer. He just said ‘more power’….it was the only thing he ever prayed. I can’t remember him ever praying anything else… Now we’ve seen many kinds of these manifestations of the Spirit on the weekends… these manifestations… and the physical healings themselves are not the important thing… the fruit of the Spirit…

these are the things that matter, the fruit that comes from these experiences. So we began to realise that God heals miraculously….”

Nicky Gumbel gives no indication here that he or anyone else attending that meeting tested the spirits to ensure that everything came from the Holy Spirit. And, of course, the fruit of the Holy Spirit does not come from “these experiences” but from the daily sanctification by the Holy Spirit through obedience to the Word (John 14:15; 21; 23-26; 15: l-7; 10; 14-15).

Once again Alpha participants are not being warned of the very serious dangers of accepting anything and everything from anyone and everyone. So they will walk out of the cocoon of Alpha and straight into the path of the “enemy the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. (1 Peter 5:8).

WHAT ABOUT THE CHURCH?

Session 13 White Alpha training manual pages 63-68/Video V Talk 14.

(1) ROMANISM

“The Alpha course is… adaptable across tradition and denominations… I know of its uses in Catholic… churches.” [Martin Cavender in Telling Others].

Adaptable in what sense exactly? Alpha’s publications manager advises that, while presentation of the material can be adapted to suit, the content should be followed exactly. (He makes particular reference to the weekend dealing with the Holy Spirit in this respect) [Christian Herald, 9:12:1995].

If the content of the course teaches the fundamental historical and theological facts and doctrines of the Christian faith as recorded in Scripture, then, having tested and proved that to be so, any Protestant church using Alpha could follow the course exactly. But could a Catholic church do that?

In talk 8 and in section II of this talk Gumbel teaches Alpha participants that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are “totally insignificant compared to the things that unite us… we need to unite around the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus; the absolute essential things at the core of the Christian faith on which we are all agreed. We need to give people liberty to disagree on the things which are secondary.”

I agree wholeheartedly with the last sentence but that is not the issue here. It is on the essentials that Protestants and Catholics do not have unity. That was the whole point of the Protestant Reformation. Discussing the price of unity in the Church, Bishop Ryle wrote: “Our noble Reformers bought the truth at the price of their own blood, and handed it down to us. Let us take heed that we do not basely sell it for a mess of pottage, under the specious names of unity and peace.” [Warnings to the Churches, 1877, page 128].

Still Gumbel says: “We need to unite… there has been some comment which is not helpful to unity. Let us drop that and get on. It is wonderful that the movement of the Spirit will always bring churches together. He is doing that right across the denominations and within the traditions… we are seeing Roman Catholics coming now… Nobody is suspicious of anybody else… People are no longer ‘labelling’ themselves or others. I long for the day when we drop all these labels and just regard ourselves as Christians with a commission from Jesus Christ.” [Renewal, May 1995, page 16]

‘Adaptability’ of the Alpha course to include Catholics, not necessarily to convert them, is referred to in Alpha as ‘unity’ and I am concerned that Alpha is contributing – albeit unintentionally – to the undoing of the Protestant Reformation through the promulgation of ecumenism disguised as Christian Unity.

(2) UNITY AND FALSE DOCTRINE/TEACHERS

“A disunited church, squabbling and criticising makes it very hard for the world to believe”. [Gumbel, Renewal, May 1995, page 16]. Consequently “we make it a rule on Alpha never to criticise another denomination, another

Christian church or a Christian leader.” [Telling Others, page 114; and this talk, section II].

Yet there are times when failure to ‘criticise’ – or rather to rebuke and correct (2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2-5) – is actually to be disobedient to the Word of God. Although in talk five Gumbel only applied the rebuking and correcting to Christian behaviour, it also applies to false teaching. We must certainly not judge one another’s sins or their hearts (e.g. Matthew 7:1-5), or their personalities, but we are to test all teachings, prophesies and practices against Scripture and judge whether they are true or false (1 Corinthians 2:15; 16; 1 John 4:1).

According to Ephesians 4:3-6 Christian unity comes through our being baptised through one Spirit into “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all”.

Unity is also essential to Latter-Rain doctrine, to enable the incarnation of Christ into His physical body (the Church), because He cannot incarnate a divided body. But Latter-Rain is a “different gospel” (Galatians 1:6-7) with a faulty eschatology which is insinuating itself into Charismatic fellowships these days; one of its most successful routes being the Toronto Blessing (vii).

It is vital that we “earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). If not, we may find ourselves, and those new believers we have nurtured, part of the Apostate church.

(3) THE PARABLE OF THE PARTY

In section IV, Gumbel says the Church, though God’s Holy Temple, so often loses “the sense of the presence of God in its midst”. He is making reference here to the Sunday meetings of believers rather than to the Church as the body of Christ and uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to explain that Sunday services should be like a ‘party’. “Jesus was saying that….the Church is like….a feast and a celebration, and at a party everyone has a good time. There’s fun, there’s laughter… Why shouldn’t there be laughter at the biggest party of all? and that’s what we’re seeing today, laughter and fun, and people getting drunk – not with wine, Paul says ‘don’t get drunk with wine – be filled with the Spirit, Come to a party where you can get drunk on God… I was at a party like that last night. It was a whole load of church leaders, and we invited the Spirit to come… It was a party thrown by the Holy Spirit. It was a fun place to be. The Church is meant to be a party…”

The Church will celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb when the Lord Jesus returns, but I find no references to “fun” or “parties” anywhere in Scripture, except in denunciation. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 for example. Until Jesus returns and we attend the marriage feast of the Lamb, there is no place for “parties” or “festivals”; not even “to the Lord”.

CONCLUSION

It may only be part of Alpha’s teaching which does not accord with Scripture, but I would say with Paul: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:9).

Every Christian and every fellowship is able to witness to the gospel. Many fellowships create their own evangelistic courses under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It should not be necessary to rely on the methods and techniques of another fellowship when we have all the instruction and teaching material we need in Scripture, all the experience we need in each of our relationships with the Lord Jesus and are each empowered by the Holy Spirit to go and do it. But if leaders do decide to use the Alpha course they should at least consider the following points in light of the concerns above:

That they ensure non-believing participants have fully understood the meaning of the cross and are saved (sessions I and 2) before propelling them into a course on Christian Living. (sessions 3-14).

That they ensure converts are fully aware of their conversion experience and are becoming stable in their daily relationship with the Lord Jesus before thrusting them into the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for which they are not yet ready and which could allow into their lives the influence of an alien spirit through ground given, albeit unintentionally.

That they ensure participants understand the different nature of the work of each person in the Trinity.

That they ensure the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and his convicting and sanctifying work in a believer’s life is not submerged beneath the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit.

That they ensure participants are taught to proceed from the Word to experience, not from experience to the Word.

Following from this, that they ensure participants understand that deception regarding doctrine and supernatural phenomena has always been Satan’s main weapon against the Church and that knowing and standing fast in the Word is our weapon of defence, as it was for Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11).

That they ensure participants are taught to become Bereans (Acts 17:11) able to test everything against Scripture for themselves, not relying on leaders, who are not infallible (e.g. Galatians 2:11-14), to do their thinking and living for them.

That they revise the booklist on pages 72-75 of the white Alpha training manual as it tends to display a bias towards writers sympathetic to the Vineyard/Toronto Experience/Restorationist persuasion, while omitting other sound and more obvious choices in several of the sessions.

In 1877 Bishop Ryle wrote: “The Lord Jesus Christ declares, ‘I will build My Church’….Ministers may preach, and writers may write, but the Lord Jesus Christ alone can build. And except He builds, the work stands still…. Sometimes the work goes on fast, and sometimes it goes on slowly. Man is frequently impatient, and thinks that nothing is doing. But man’s time is not God’s time. A thousand years in His sight are but as a single day. The great builder makes no mistakes. He knows what He is doing. He sees the end from the beginning. He works by a perfect, unalterable and certain plan.” [J.C. Ryle ‘The True Church‘ in Warnings to the Churches, 1877, pages13-14].

[Note: Nicky Gumbel dates his call to evangelism (Tape Five of the video set) to the 1982 incident in which he received prayer from John Wimber. On that occasion, he experienced such supernatural power that he had to call out for it to stop. Wimber gave a “word” that Gumbel had been given “a gift of telling people about Jesus”.]

A much expanded version of this paper is presently available from Jo Gardner, price £1.25 incl. postage. Write to: Adullam Register/Alpha, 86 Manor Way, Croxley Green, Herts WD3 3LY. This paper and other material will also shortly be produced in the form of a booklet. Enquiries to Jo Gardner, not Banner!

FOOTNOTES

(i) Letters to the author should be directed to Banner Ministries.

(ii) HTB in Focus: Alpha News, Aug 1995 p9. See also Wallace Boulton, ed., The Impact Of Toronto, 1995 pp2O-24.

(iii) See Richard Smith, “Spiritual Drunkenness”, Sept 1994.

(iv) See Wallace Boulton, ed., The Impact Of Toronto, 1995, p19. Also David Noakes, Dealing With Poison In The Pot, audio tape, CFCM 95/04, side 1. And Johannes Facius, ‘Laugh? I Nearly Cried’ in Prophecy Today, May/June

1995, p25.

(v) See for example, Robert M. Bowman, Orthodoxy And Heresy: A Biblical Guide To Doctrinal Discernment, 1993. And J.C. Ryle, Warnings To The Churches, 1877.

(vi) During the Leadership Consultation held in January and March 1995, by the Centre for Contemporary Ministry, it was noted that Wm Branham also practised impartation of the Spirit, which others could then pass on. Arnott has likened the Toronto Blessing to a virus. (See Haggai 2:10-14).

(vii) See ‘Birth of the Manchild’ in Mainstream, Spring 1995, pp i-5 for the eschatology being taught at some Vineyard churches.

II. The Alpha Course by Chris Hand, 2003

http://www.banner.org.uk/misc/alpha.html

Is the popular Alpha Course leading people astray?

Many people have been greatly impressed by the Alpha course. Designed to be an introduction to the Christian faith through talks, video presentations, small-group discussions and a special weekend-away, lots of churches are now employing it as part of their outreach.

In the eyes of many it has been a run-away-success and its fame has spread far beyond the UK, and Holy Trinity Brompton, the London church where it originated.

It is no exaggeration to say it has spread right across the world and is now finding friends in several continents. It has been adapted so as to be accessible to young people and has also proved versatile enough to be used in prisons, schools and places of work.

Churches in inner cities and rural areas have found it sufficiently flexible for their needs. Future plans for expansion suggest that Alpha is very much here to stay. What is more, many people claim to have been helped through going on the Alpha course and believe it has brought them an understanding of God and how to respond to Him. Testimonies and accounts of wonderful things that have happened to individuals abound; In the light of all this, surely there cannot be anything wrong with it?

With so many in today’s society gripped by materialism and atheism, can Alpha be anything other than a good thing? As young people become hopelessly enmeshed in a godless culture, should we not applaud the efforts of Alpha and help make it a success?

We wished that the answers to these questions could be an emphatic Yes. But closer examination of Alpha prevents such a clean bill of health being given to it. Why this concern? There are six vital reasons we would like to bring to your attention.

1. The God of Alpha is not the God of the Bible.

Alpha quotes from the Bible a lot. It cannot be faulted on that. But for all this it does not present us with the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. There is much we could say about the God of the Scriptures. He is the Creator of the universe and the one who upholds it and maintains it. He is a great King and Sovereign over all He has made. We are challenged to ponder:

“To whom then will you liken me? Or to whom shall I be equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of his might and the strength of his power; Not one is missing.” (Isaiah 40:25-26)

He is high and holy. He dwells in heaven and is all-glorious. Nothing impure can live in His presence. For those that fall short of His glory and perfection, there is judgement that follows (Romans 6:23)

Now of course much more could be said. But you will have to search hard and long in Alpha to find a God that resembles the One just described. Nothing about Him as Creator, nothing about Him as a great King. He is assumed rather than described. The Bible tells us “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). But we would not be any wiser of this from going on the Alpha Course. It simply fails to tell us anything we need to know about God.

2. The plight of man in Alpha is not as serious as in the Bible.

Man’s state until he is reconciled to God is not a happy one. Psalm 7:11 tells us God is a just judge, and – “God is angry with the wicked every day”. The gospel of John makes this abundantly plain: He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36) Man without God is subject to the wrath of God. We are not slightly displeasing to Him. It is not that we have occasional faults and foibles that surface. It is what we are by nature.

The apostle Paul explains that we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). This is very strong language and leaves us in no doubt. We have offended against God and broken His holy law. We are sinners in His sight and deserve condemnation. It is as straightforward as that.

By contrast, Alpha does not use strong terms and leaves us rather unclear about where we stand. As one follows its argument, sin is more to be seen in the way we have messed up our lives (Gumbel 1994: 44, 47). It is an inward-looking description of man’s state that majors on his feelings of fearfulness (Gumbel 1994:22). It is a picture of man predominated by his feelings of sadness and unhappiness (Gumbel 1994:12-22). sup1/sup.

Now of course these things are all true. This is what life is like for sinners. It is a miserable life for them. Yet this is to major on the consequences of sin rather than sin itself. These are the miseries that follow inevitably because we are sinners. The problem, however, is more serious than simply sin’s consequences. Alpha fails to tell us that ultimately we have offended God and courted His displeasure. We have sinned against God and are justly under His judgement. We are people “…having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). For all the gravity of sin, Alpha never allows us to feel too bad about ourselves. It never permits us to see ourselves in God’s sight. That is a big omission.

3. The Jesus Christ of Alpha is not the Jesus Christ of the Bible.

This may surprise us. Alpha appears to have quite a lot to say about the Lord Jesus. It tells us what He did, what He said, the claims He made about Himself and establishes beyond doubt that the resurrection actually took place. But despite having part of the course entitled ‘Why did Jesus die?’, it is unable in the final analysis to answer this question. This is a core issue.

Christ died because God’s holy justice required it. Our lives were forfeit. We had sinned and were helpless. Christ had to die in the place of sinners who truly deserved to bear the penalty for their sin. Christ’s death propitiated or appeased the wrath of God (Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2). Alpha has not described God to us and therefore has no meaningful place for God’s wrath. Christ’s death ends up having to satisfy some abstract principle of justice that has somehow become detached from God Himself.

Alpha’s own illustrations and attempts to explain get us no closer to the heart of the matter (Gumbel 1994:19-20; 47-48). Christ’s death upon the cross becomes an act of love but without any real connection with the reality of judgement and God’s wrath. All we are left with is the impression that Christ has sacrificed Himself to rescue us from the consequences of sin because that was required by some impersonal and rather arbitrary justice system. It is all rather mysterious. This is not the Christ of Scripture.

4. The love of God in Alpha is not the love of the God of the Bible.

The Bible is clear that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). Alpha tells us this too. There is a difference, however. In Alpha God is love and little else. There is not much else that He can be as the course has missed all the aspects of His great character that refer to His holiness and glory. We are left with love.

The God of the Bible is love but it is love that is seen in His willingness to save sinners. We are told, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Why did the Lord come? To save sinners. What moved God to do this? His love. This is what makes His love so special and wonderful. It is that such a holy and glorious God should save sinners. This is clear from Romans 5:8 as well; But God demonstrates his own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God’s love is evident in that He acted to save sinners. Here we see the glory of Christ’s love. But without the context of God’s holiness and absolute perfection, the meaning of that love is lost to us. Instead God merely becomes an emotional being of unconditional love divorced from any true understanding of His true nature and being. Alpha’s God will give us an emotional high and make us feel special. The God of the Bible will give us eternal life. There is a big difference between the two.

5. The Holy Spirit of Alpha is not the Holy Spirit of the Bible.

There is more space in Alpha devoted to the Holy Spirit than to the Lord Jesus. This is surprising given what Scripture says about the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14). Why does Alpha do this? It is because Alpha’s ‘Holy Spirit’ is the agent for giving to people an ‘experience’ that is going to make God real to them.

The main focus for this is the ‘Holy Spirit Weekend-Away’. People doing Alpha are told to expect all manner of things might happen to them. We are told, Sometimes, when people are filled, they shake like a leaf in the wind. Others find themselves breathing deeply as if almost physically breathing in the Spirit. (Gumbel 1994:136). It is not restricted to this, however.

Physical heat sometimes accompanies the filling of the Spirit and people experience it in their hands or some other part of their bodies. One person described a feeling of ‘glowing all over’. Another said she experienced ‘liquid heat’. Still another described ‘burning in my arms when I was not hot’. (Gumbel 1994:136)

This is all very interesting but it has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit as known through the pages of Scripture. Nowhere are any phenomena such as these attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. Alpha’s ‘Spirit’ appears to work in ways that lie outside the confines of Scripture. Whoever it is that people are ‘introduced’ to at the Alpha Weekend, it is not the Holy Spirit. But whoever the mysterious guest is, he is equally at home among the ecstatic gatherings of New Age enthusiasts and non-Christian religions alike.

6. Conversions in Alpha are not like conversions in the Bible.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter’s hearers were ‘…cut to the heart…'(Acts 2:37). The Philippian jailer asked urgently ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ (Acts 16:30). They understood that they were sinners. They realised that they needed mercy. It was clear to them as it was to the believers in Thessalonica that the gospel was ‘…in truth, the word of God…’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Conversions in Alpha come differently from this. More often than not it is an emotional experience about the love of God but without any understanding of holiness or the need to be saved from our sins. There is no recognition of the need to repent and to turn to God as a matter of life and death. People feel forgiven but do not seem to have realised the depth of their sinfulness or repented of their sin. People feel cleansed without having consciously put their faith in Christ. Often this happens when people are in some ecstatic state. Alpha may regard this as conversion but it is not what we find in the Bible.

For all its efforts, Alpha does not help us to know God. It does not describe the true and living God for us. It does not diagnose man’s condition accurately enough. It is unable to adequately account for Christ’s death and substitutes an unbiblical view of God’s love and God’s Holy Spirit in its place. To cap it all, the whole issue of conversion is grievously misunderstood. By sparing us the ‘bad news’ about ourselves, it is unable to supply us with the ‘good news’.

The needs of our souls for biblical and life-saving truth are far too precious and important to be brought down to this level. It needs the unvarnished truth of the Scriptures. We may merely succeed in adding people to our churches who have never been converted. That will be no help to them and no help to our churches either.

To leave someone believing they are converted when they are not is an awful prospect. Yet that is what we are risking using defective tools such as Alpha, ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ (2 Timothy 3:5). We must do better. Failure is too high a price to pay.

Nicky Gumbel quotes in this article taken from “Questions of Life“, Kingsway, Eastbourne, 1994

III. The Gospel According to Gumbel (the Alpha Course)*** by Michael J. Penfold

http://www.webtruth.org/articles/what-is-the-gospel-21/the-gospel-according-to-gumbel-(the-alpha-course)-40.html

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 15 years, you will at least have heard of The Alpha Course. Written by ex-Barrister turned Anglican Curate Nicky Gumbel, it styles itself as a friendly, fun and non-threatening ‘practical introduction to the Christian faith’. Summarised in Gumbel’s best-selling book Questions of Life, Alpha involves people attending fifteen 40 minute talks, spread over ten weeks.

In line with Gumbel’s theology and church affiliation (Holy Trinity Church of England, Brompton), Alpha is fully ecumenical1 and thoroughly charismatic in content. Three of the fifteen talks centre on the Holy Spirit – including a primer on ‘tongues’ – with another entirely dedicated to ‘healing’. Only two talks focus on Jesus Christ, with none at all on God the Father. Literally millions of people have completed the course, which is currently running in thousands of churches worldwide, Protestant and Catholic.2 The format, with its social meals, ‘weekend away’ and opportunity for small-group discussion after each session, have helped ensure its continuing popularity as a major medium for modern church evangelism.

Alpha’s actual ‘gospel’ content is minimal. Talk one is about the meaning of life and the relevance of Christianity. Talk two presents historical evidence for the reliability of the Bible as a true record of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. From talk four onwards, Alpha treats the audience as if it were Christian and deals with topics such as assurance, the will of God and prayer. That leaves talk three, entitled ‘Why Did Jesus Die?’ as the only direct gospel section in the whole course. From this chapter, the ‘gospel according to Gumbel’ can be summarized as follows:

-The root cause of sin is a broken relationship with God.

-Everyone has done bad things and consequently our lives are in a mess.

-Sin has polluted us and will ultimately lead to eternal isolation from God.

-God loves us and longs to restore our lost relationship with Him.

-In Christ, God self-substituted Himself, paying sin’s penalty on the cross.

-To become Christians and receive all the benefits of the cross, we must pray to God, saying sorry for our wrong-doing, thanking Jesus for dying for us and asking Him to come into our lives and fill us with His Spirit.3

Although Gumbel mentions sin over thirty times in talk three, he presents it almost entirely as something people do, omitting an explanation of what people are by nature. People do what they do because they are what they are. They sin because they are sinners. Yet, apart from writing ‘Gen 3′ in brackets at one point, Gumbel skips any exposition of the doctrine of original sin – how sin entered the world through our first parents’ rebellion in the garden of Eden (Rom 5:12-19). His audience is not informed that by Adam’s disobedience all have been constituted sinners. No Alpha attendee learns that they were therefore conceived in sin and born with a depraved principle of evil permeating their very nature (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:3, Isaiah 48:8, Psalm 58:3, Genesis 8:21, John 3:6, Romans 7:18).

A mere 45 minutes after commencing a humorous evangelical presentation, one which omits half of the doctrine of man’s depravity, Gumbel invites his millions of viewers to pray a prayer saying ‘sorry for sin’ and asking Jesus to come into their lives. Yet, in reality, the dire need of his audience has never really been exposed. They may willingly say a very earnest and sincere ‘sorry’ to God for all their wrong doings, without ever having understood by the convicting power of the Spirit through God’s word, that they are by nature incurably bad, unfit for heaven and undeserving of grace and mercy, while the just wrath of a holy and righteous God hangs over their head.

Gumbel does touch on self-righteousness, but his ‘wife, car and exam jokes’ are so numerous and distracting that the force and seriousness of this sin – which has damned more people than most other sins combined – is not pressed home. Thus while many audience members may confess in a prayer, even with tears, that they are sorry for their sins, since they have never had their depravity scripturally exposed, their refined and cultured souls would quickly rise up in anger were a faithful preacher to really press them as to their true lost and helpless condition (by nature), and show them that every good (even religious) thought, word and deed in their entire life has amounted to nothing more than filthy rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6).

Gumbel is clearly anxious neither to come over as too ‘heavy’ nor to unduly disturb his audience about their sinfulness. Anything serious he says about sin is quickly followed by a joke or a witty one-liner. A master of positive body language, Gumbel never frowns, even managing a full-teethed grin when speaking of the judgment of God.

Sins of omission never receive a mention, despite the greatest sin in the Bible being something a sinner does not do (Matthew 22:36-38). Again, Gumbel neglects to emphasize that every single sin is against God and constitutes an act of rebellion (Psalm 51:4). Many sincere people are deeply upset about their sins, who have never once realised that their sin is against God and that their depraved nature is like a clenched fist before heaven’s throne.

Shockingly, Gumbel never explains that good works cannot save. As a Church of England Curate, he well knows that the average Anglican or Catholic Alpha attendee is trusting in christening, baptism, confession, Mass attendance, church membership, confirmation and good deeds to get them to heaven. Does Gumbel address this crucial issue? Tragically no – not even a single paragraph explaining the difference between ‘grace’ and ‘works’. Gumbel never expounds the foundational truth of salvation ‘by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone’. This is no doubt one reason why the Roman Catholic Church finds Alpha so acceptable. Catholic Bishop Ambrose Griffiths commends Alpha for being a “powerful evangelistic tool…it doesn’t contain anything that is contrary to Catholic doctrine.”4
Thousands of Roman Catholics have completed Alpha, said the sinner’s prayer, received the ‘spirit’ and spoken in tongues, without ever realising that the rosary, prayers to Mary, confession to a priest and the seven Romish sacraments are all unscriptural ‘good works’, that not only play no part in salvation, but are an abomination to God. What appreciation have Catholic Alpha-goers gained of the once-for-all sacrifice of Lord Jesus, if they continue to have part in the sacrifice of the Mass and the idolatrous works-dominated system of Rome after ‘making a commitment’ on Alpha? Interestingly, Gumbel has admitted that the sections in Questions of Life about baptism and holy communion were carefully scripted to enable them to be used by Roman Catholics and evangelicals alike.5
In February 2004, after shaking hands with the Pope in the Papal Audience Centre in the Vatican, Gumbel said, “It was a great honour to be presented to Pope John Paul II, who has done so much to promote evangelisation around the world…what unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us.”6

Gumbel’s treatment of sin’s consequences is so brief and cryptic that most listeners probably do not hear it, never mind grasp the solemnity of what is at stake. On the video Gumbel never mentions the word ‘hell’ nor warns his audience to flee from the wrath to come. Alpha mentions ‘eternal isolation from God’, but for those ‘in the know’, this clever phrase allows for Gumbel’s seriously erroneous belief in the eventual annihilation of all who die in their sins.7

Despite majoring on the Holy Spirit, Gumbel never mentions His work of convicting of sin (John 16:8). But what is conviction of sin? Few Christians can define this vital theological term and even less can discern when it is present. Conviction of sin is not:

-the ordinary smiting of a guilty conscience

-a mere head knowledge of what the Bible says about sin

-a shallow acknowledgement that ”I’ve made a lot of mistakes.”

-a mere fear of going to hell

-even an admission of sin (Pharaoh, Saul, Balaam and Judas all said “I have sinned.” and went to hell).

True Holy Spirit conviction is a proper sense of the dreadfulness of one’s sinnership and sin against God (Psalm 51:4, Luke 15:18). It is when a person inwardly feels and owns the wickedness and rebellion of their depraved heart. A stranger to conviction is a stranger to repentance; and a stranger to repentance must be a stranger to salvation for, “Unless you repent you will all perish” (Luke 13:5). Which raises another term that is little understood throughout evangelicalism, namely repentance. Gumbel gives it one brief mention, also using the synonym ‘turn’ a couple of times – but he neither develops nor emphasizes this vital theme. Repentance was John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus’ first spoken word in public ministry (Matthew 3:1, Mk 1:15). Paul defined the very gospel itself as ‘repentance and faith’, and summarized the message he had preached throughout his entire life as simply, “repent and turn to God” (Acts 20:21, 26:20). But theological terms need to be defined carefully. Repentance is not:

-Penance or restitution

-Mere tears and trembling (Acts 24:25)

-Fear of judgment. ”Multitudes desire to be saved from hell (the natural instinct of self-preservation) who are quite unwilling to be saved from sin. Yea, there are tens of thousands who have been deluded into thinking that they have ‘accepted Christ as their Saviour’ whose lives plainly show that they have rejected Him as their Lord. For a sinner to obtain the pardon of God, he must forsake his way.”8

-Remorse. ”…we must all learn to distinguish between the sorrow that comes from being caught & the sorrow that comes from a deep, inward hatred of sin and longing for the glory of God that is the distinguishing feature of the regenerate person.9

-Confession or admission of sin. Salvation is never promised to those who confess their sin (1 John 1:9 is a promise to Christians).

-Reformation or turning over a new leaf.

True Biblical repentance, which always accompanies genuine believing faith, may be defined as follows: a complete change of one’s sinful heart, involving a turning from sin to God, which results in a change of life. Clearly no one can turn to a righteous God without first turning from their own unrighteousness. When God reveals to the sinner a real consciousness of what he is in God’s sight, and he personally recognizes his wickedness and inner corruption, he is willing to repudiate sin from his heart. Repentance is not someone saying, ”I felt guilty about my adultery so I stopped it years ago.” It is rather, “I now realise I am a lost, undone and guilty sinner through and through, deserving nothing but the eternal wrath of God in hell.” It is a permanent change of outlook, ambition and heart (mind, will and affection) wrought by the Holy Spirit of God.

How shockingly different all of this is to Alpha, whose notion of repentance goes no deeper than being sorry for wrong-doing and asking for forgiveness. Gumbel illustrates accepting Christ (he avoids the Biblical word ‘saved’ like the plague) from the life of the late John Wimber, one of America’s most notorious charismatic false teachers. Just prior to ‘becoming a Christian’, Wimber understood ‘in a flash’ that he had “hurt God’s feelings.” As he sobbed his way through a prayer, he realized that God had been with him all his life. While on his knees ‘believing in Jesus’ he had a horrible thought – “I hope this works, because I’m making a complete fool of myself.”10

Gumbel’s limited understanding and presentation of the theology of sin, leads to a faulty explanation of why Jesus died. Despite giving various illustrations of Christ’s death, including the old ‘swap the Bible from one hand to the other’ visual image, Gumbel misses the central point of the atonement. The Bible reveals that God’s righteous anger and wrath burn constantly against sin and sinners (John 3:36, Romans 1:18, 2:5). To save sinners from wrath (Romans 5:9) penal substitution took place on the cross. Simply put, the righteous anger and wrath of God against sin was poured out on His own Son (Isaiah 53:5 & 10). This glorious truth is denied by false teachers like Steve Chalke and Clark Pinnock. Gumbel’s position on penal substitution (God punished Jesus) is spelled out in Questions of Life:Some people caricature the New Testament teaching and suggest that God is unjust because He punished Jesus, an innocent party, instead of us. This is not what the New Testament says. Rather Paul says ‘God was… in Christ’ [2 Corinthians 5:19]. He was himself the substitute in the person of his Son… We can come back to the Father and experience his love and blessing…That is what God has made possible through his self-substitution on the cross.”11


Although Gumbel later refers to Isaiah 53:6 and says that, “God transferred our wrong-doings onto Jesus,”12 he denies that God actually punished His own Son. Here, at the heart of Alpha, is a serious error, for scripture plainly teaches that it was God’s will to bruise His own Son (Isaiah 53:10). Calvary involved divine punishment. That is why the word chastisement is used (Isaiah 53:5). The iniquity God laid on Christ stands for the wrong itself, the guilt incurred and the punishment to which it gave rise. Literally in Hebrew it means that the Lord ‘made to meet upon Him’ the punishment due to us all. Wrath was poured out on Christ, as He vicariously identified Himself with sinners, being judicially made sin for them on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21).

So, while Alpha places a great emphasis on the love of God, through its comments on penal substitution it obscures the greatest manifestation of that love. When writing of the wrath-appeasing sacrifice of Christ on the cross that has rendered God merciful to sinners – what is called propitiation – the Bible says literally, “This is love indeed, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10).

Small wonder that after a weak explanation of sin and wrath, and a confused presentation of the cross, Gumbel’s invitation to ‘accept Christ’ comes up short. Rather than exposing unbelief as a sin and urging his audience to repent while there is time, Gumbel tells them that they have no need to receive Christ if they are ‘not ready’ and need more time to ‘go away and think about it’. However, to those who are ‘ready’, he counsels, “picture Christ standing in front of you.” Gumbel’s ‘image of Christ’ is holding a blank cheque, offering the untold riches of heaven to any who will let Jesus fill in their name. The hardest part of becoming a Christian is just getting out those difficult words, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” Once anyone prays ‘the prayer’ to ‘receive Christ’, they are assured by Gumbel, “If you’ve asked Him to come in, He has.”

This ‘all you have to do is ask’ mentality has lulled millions into a false sense of security. Biblical ‘calling on the name of the Lord’ is never presented as some kind of isolated magic bullet. Isaiah 55:6-7 shows that such a call must be attended by other actions such as, seeking the Lord, forsaking one’s wicked ways and returning to God.

Even in Romans 10:9, calling follows believing. In other words it must be an enlightened call, issuing from a broken heart (Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18-19, Matthew 5:3-5, Psalm 51:17). What does God do for the repentant soul? He reveals the all-sufficiency of the person and work of Christ. The Holy Spirit opens the heart to receive God’s word (Acts 16:14), and powerfully applies it to the mind and conscience, resulting in the new-born soul being able to say, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).

In reality, most who claim conversion through Alpha point to the middle ‘weekend away’ as their moment of faith. The physical sensations many receive at the end of the Saturday night session on ‘How can I be filled with the Spirit’ –when Gumbel invites the Holy Spirit to ‘come’ – convince multitudes that they have become Christians. Of course, this is the opposite of objective Biblical faith that rests on God’s word alone. On the day of judgment how many Alpha attendees will say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name have cast out devils, and in Thy name done many wonderful works? “, to which the Lord will reply, “I never knew you: depart from me ” (Matthew 7:21-23). The few genuine souls who are saved in spite of Alpha do not compensate for the thousands who are lost through Alpha. It is a fearful and sorrowful fact that multitudes of Alpha attendees have said the sinner’s prayer and are now convinced they are Christians, who haven’t come within a mile of understanding their real condition as bankrupt sinners before a holy God. Remember, Alpha was written by a man who himself does not have a conversion moment but says simply, “There was never a time when I did not have a relationship with God…I sincerely hope that’s what will be the case with my children.”13

Alpha is neither solemn enough, nor sound enough, nor safe enough to be used by any individual or church who takes Biblical evangelism seriously. May God grant faithful Christians to take a stand against this erroneous course.

Notes:

1. Alpha refers to the RC Church more frequently and positively than any other religious body.

2. A ‘Gumbel approved’ Catholic Alpha exists, which includes extra talks such as ‘Why should I go to Mass?’ Adverts for Catholic Alpha appear in Alpha’s newspaper, Alpha News.

3. Summarised from Ch. 3 of Questions of Life, Nicky Gumbel (Kingsway, Eastbourne, 1993), and from video talk No. 3, The Alpha Course (Alpha International Publications, Brompton, London, 2000).

4. Alpha News, July 1997, p. 1.

5. Evangelism, Which Way Now? Mike Booker/Mark Ireland, Church House Publ, London, 2003, p. 23.

6. Alpha News, March-June 2004, p. 7.

7. Confirmed in a letter from Holy Trinity Brompton to Michael Penfold dated 23rd March 2005

8. Genuine Salvation, A. W. Pink, International Outreach, Ames, IA, 1999, p. 121.

9. Repentance, Richard Owen Roberts, Crossway Books, Wheaton IL, 2002, p. 86.

10. Questions of Life, Nicky Gumbel, Kingsway, Eastbourne, 1993, p. 54.

11. Ibid, pp. 52-53.

12. Ibid, p. 63.

13. Video Talk 4, The Alpha Course, 2000.

IV. Alpha: Another Road To Rome?***
Commentary by Roger Oakland

http://www.understandthetimes.org/commentary/c15.shtml

The Alpha program, founded by Nicky Gumbel, a former Oxford educated barrister-turned-Anglican priest has become very popular in North America. A brochure published for the Alpha Texas Conference in Austin, Texas, scheduled for January 8th and 9th, 1998 detailed the goals and objectives of the course. It stated:

The Alpha Course is a ten-week practical introduction to the Christian faith. It is designed primarily for non-church goers and those who have recently become Christians. Alpha is a flexible and practical model that can work for a group of any size. Churches and Christian organizations of every background and denomination are discovering it to be a simple and effective way of presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ in a non-threatening manner for people of all walks of life.[1]

Charisma, December 1999, also contained an article that provided additional information about the Alpha program and how it is being promoted and marketed. The article, written by journalist Clive Price titled “Alpha Course Supporters Urge British To Party With God On New Year’s Eve” was introduced the following way:

Lying on a bed of nails? That does not sound like the most orthodox way of spearheading a $1.6 million evangelistic media campaign for the closing days of the twentieth century. But as British pastor Sandy Millar puts it, the aim of the Alpha Project’s millennium initiative is to help people “get the point” of the year 2000.[2]

Although Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha course was founded at Holy Trinity Brompton in 1991, the effectiveness of the course was not realized until a few years later after the “Toronto Blessing” was transported to England from Canada in May of 1994. It was then that Church leaders of Holy Trinity Brompton received a dose of the “blessing” through Elli Mumford who had just returned from Toronto.

On May 24, 1994, Elli Mumford met with several leaders of Holy Trinity Brompton. As Mumford prayed at this meeting, the “transferable blessing” from the Toronto Airport Vineyard was manifest. Sandy Millar, the highly regarded vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, decided that Elli would preach the following Sunday morning. After giving her testimony about her ‘Toronto experience,’ Elli asked the congregation to stand while she prayed the Lord would bless and give them all He had. Immediately people began to laugh hysterically, weep, shake, jerk, bark and roar.[3]

Alpha Endorsers

A brochure called “Alpha: A Model for Dynamic Growth in the Local Church” advertised twenty-two major conferences that were to be held throughout North America for the year 2000. In this same brochure a number of high profile Christian leaders endorsed Alpha, each one making positive statements.

For example, The Most Reverend and Right Honorable George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, England stated: “Alpha is superb and a great blessing to many. I commend it wholeheartedly.”[4] Jack Hayford, president of King’s Seminary said, “I see Alpha as a strategic tool, sensitively crafted to address today’s secularized seekers with satisfying answers to their spiritual hunger.”[5] And Cardinal William H. Keeler, Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore stated: “We are hearing wonderful testimony of the good news touching and even transforming the lives of individuals who attended Alpha courses.”[6]

Other sources indicate the Alpha course has an ecumenical flavor. A front-page headline of Alpha News stated “Roman Catholic Bishops Applaud Alpha as Course Spreads Through Church.” According to this article, an increasing number of Roman Catholic leaders are enthusiastically endorsing the Alpha Course.

In May of 1997, about 450 attended London’s Westminster Cathedral Hall where the first Roman Catholic Alpha conference took place. Sandy Miller and Nicky Gumbel led the conference. A message of encouragement was received from Cardinal Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster.[7]

Bishop Ambrose Griffiths, Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, introduced the conference. The Bishop stated that the Alpha Course was a “powerful evangelistic tool which reaches out precisely to those whom we need.” “We should have the humility to learn from other Christians and I am delighted that we are doing this today,” he said.[8]

Alpha: Another Road to Rome

While visiting in the United Kingdom recently, I was handed an article taken from the religious section of the London Daily Times. The title of the article immediately caught my attention: “An Unholy Alliance? How Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants are Coming Together.”[9] Prominently centered beneath the headline was a photo of Father Raniero Cantalamessa, “Preacher to the Papal Household” and next to him was Rev. Nicky Gumbel, the founder of the Alpha Bible Study course.

A paragraph beneath the photograph caught my attention. This is what I read:

Alpha, the basic evangelization course, has been key to promoting Catholic – Evangelical dialogue. In Catholic parishes it is followed up with materials developed by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who is Preacher to the Papal Household, and a welcome guest at Alpha’s birthplace, the evangelical church Holy Trinity Brompton.”

According to this article, Rev. Gumbel and Cantalamessa have formed a ministry partnership associated with the Alpha program. “There is an obvious holiness about Raniero that radiates through him,” Gumbel stated in the article.[10]

While the article mentioned that Alpha has significantly promoted evangelization and dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals, a question crossed my mind. Who actually is being evangelized? Is it possible that the Roman Catholic Church would attempt to use the Protestant-based Alpha program as a clever ecumenical bridge to unsuspecting “separated brethren” who they claim have strayed away from the mother of all churches that is based in Rome?

As I read further, my suspicion that there may be a hidden agenda was confirmed. “Many Catholic students are also involved in the Christian Union and go to prayer groups in the Evangelical Churches. One of the fruits of Vatican II has been a new awareness of Scripture and this is a real area of cross-fertilization,” I read.[11]

This spiritual “cross-fertilization” that has occurred as the result of Alpha and other ecumenical programs has led Catholics and Evangelicals to openly discuss the theology that separates them. The article continued: “There has been quite a lot of dialogue about Mary and the infallibility of the Pope and also the sacraments,” says John Noble, one of the Charismatic leaders to have “discovered Mary” through contact with Catholics.[12]

Or how about this statement made by David Mathews, senior pastor of the New Harvest Community Church: “Within the Evangelical community there is a growing understanding of the saints.”[13]

So where will this lead in the future? Will the Alpha evangelization program that is embraced by Rome bring people to a true understanding of the simple gospel? The facts seem to indicate there may be some confusion. A Christianity that focuses on Mary, the saints, or the sacraments and not on Jesus is foreign to the Bible.

References

[1] Brochure, The Texas Alpha Conference, January 8-9, 1998, p 2

[2] Clive Price, Charisma, December 1999, “Alpha Course Supporters Urge British To Party With God on New Year’s Eve” p 38

[3] Roger Oakland, New Wine or Old Deception? The Word For Today, Costa Mesa, 1995, p 30-31

[4] “Alpha: A Model for Dynamic Growth in the Local Church,” Conferences for 2000, published by Alpha North America, New York, 2000.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Bess Twiston Davies, “An Unholy Alliance? How Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants Are Coming Together,” The London Times, October 5, 2002, p 46

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

V. What About the Alpha Course? by Rev. Ron Hanko March 10, 2007

http://www.cprf.co.uk/pamphlets/whataboutalpha.htmko; http://alphacourseexposed.blogspot.com/

There is no doubt that the Alpha
Course is very popular. Almost every one has heard of it or knows someone who has been to it. It is estimated that 500,000 persons took the course in 1997, and there are people still taking it today. Few, however, seem to be asking whether the course is biblical and teaches biblical truth. This must be done, especially in light of its origins and popularity. We must not believe every spirit, but try them whether they are of God (I John 4:1).

When the Alpha Course is brought to the test of Scripture, it falls far short—so far short that rather than recommending it, we must warn against it. It is our hope and prayer, therefore, that this pamphlet will be given to those who are taking the course or considering it, in order that they may not be mislead by it.

There are, we believe, especially four reasons why the Alpha Course needs to be rejected and avoided by God’s people. They are: (1) its ecumenical emphasis; (2) its Charismatic origins and teachings; (3) its other unbiblical doctrines; and (4) its lack of clear biblical teaching on many key points. The latter is, in fact, its worst feature.

What is Alpha Course?

For those who are not acquainted with Alpha some background is necessary. The course was developed and is distributed by the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Brompton, west London. It was originally produced in 1979, but has since been completely reworked.

It is meant to be an evangelistic and “discipling” tool and there are different versions of the course, including one for young people. The basis course, however, consists of 15 lessons or Bible studies to be presented either by a leader or by videos over a period of approximately 12 weeks.

The lessons are quite short and are supposed to be taught in an informal fashion. In harmony with this, it is suggested that four of the lessons (8-11), considered to be the high point of the course, be taught as part of a “Weekend Away.”

The sponsors themselves say of the course, “We believe it is possible to learn about the Christian faith and have a lot of fun at the same time” (according to the author, “the church is meant to be a party”). To make the course “fun,” the fundamental doctrines of Scripture are distorted or passed over.

Ecumenism

That Alpha is designed to be ecumenical is very evident. The author of the course himself tells us, “In one sense it is not so important what denomination we are—Roman Catholic or Protestant; Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican or House Church. What is more important is whether or not we have the Spirit of God.”

This ecumenical spirit is evident also in those who have endorsed the course. Some of them are: George Carey (Archbishop of Canterbury), Alistair McGrath (an influential Anglican scholar), Dr. J. I. Packer (of “Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Together” notoriety), John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard Churches), R. T. Kendall of Westminster Chapel (associated with the Toronto blessing and other heresies), John James (President of the Baptist Union), Steve Chalke and Gerald Coates (leading Charismatics).

Alpha’s broad appeal is possible due to a lack of clear biblical teaching. Thus, a Roman Catholic bishop has said of the course: “It doesn’t contain anything that is contrary to Catholic doctrine. What’s more, it provides in wonderful form the basis of Christian belief which many Catholics have never cottoned on to.” In harmony with this endorsement, many Romish churches and parishes are using the course. This alone ought to frighten all Bible-believing Christians away from the course.

Charismatic Bias

Closely connected with its ecumenism is a strong Charismatic emphasis. The key question for the “Weekend Away” is “How can I be filled with the Spirit?” In answer, among other things, directions are given for receiving the gift of “tongues.”

Along the same lines the course teaches that God speaks to us through prophecy, dreams and visions. It promotes faith healing (a la John Wimber, whose books are recommended), and speaks of physical manifestations such as shaking, breathing “in the Spirit,” and warmth or heat in different parts of the body.

This Charismatic influence is due to the fact that Holy Trinity is a church which promotes the “Toronto Blessing.” In fact, the main purpose of the course seems to be to advocate the Charismatic movement and teachings.

Lack of Biblical Teaching

Perhaps the worst feature of Alpha, though, is that is teaches so very little. This is the reason, we suppose, that the Roman bishop mentioned above could say that he found nothing in it contrary to Catholic doctrine. Many key doctrines of the faith are passed over completely or touched on only very lightly.

This is in harmony with Alpha’s stated purpose, i.e., to present the “gospel” in a “non-threatening” way, and to allow people to have fun while learning the “truth.” If the gospel is presented from Scripture in all its purity and truth it will never be fun for anyone.

The lack of sound teaching also fits in well with its strong charismatic emphasis—an emphasis that exalts feeling and experience over truth. Feeling and experience have their place. Nevertheless, we ought never to forget that it is the truth that makes us free, not feelings (John 8:32).

As far as specific doctrines are concerned, therefore, the course says nothing or next to nothing about such fundamental Bible teachings as justification by faith alone, election, the holiness and justice of God, the coming judgement and the wrath of God, the law, depravity, repentance, and the new birth.

This, of course, explains not only its broad ecumenical appeal but also its “success,” for the true gospel in teaching these things is both a savour of life unto life and of death unto death (II Corinthians 2:15-16).

Perhaps the most notable omission, though, is any serious teaching regarding God Himself. That knowledge of God which is life eternal (John 17:3) is hardly to be found in the course. For example, the justice of God, fundamental to an understanding of sin, the cross, salvation and the coming of judgement is never ever mentioned in the course. The only thing taught is the love of God and that is distorted beyond recognition. It is possible, therefore, to take the whole course and remain almost entirely ignorant of the God of Scripture.

False Teaching

What the course does teach is more often than not misleading or downright error. Though the Trinity is mentioned, far more time and teaching is devoted to the Holy Spirit than to God the Father or even to Christ, in spite of what Christ says in John 16:13-14.

In its teaching concerning salvation, Alpha is thoroughly Arminian and free-willist, teaching that God loves everyone, that Christ died for all without exception, that faith is man’s decision. Thus, too, sin is presented primarily in terms of “messed up lives,” of unhappiness and other problems, but never clearly in terms of offending God and breaking His law. Really only the evil consequence, not the guilt of sin, is emphasised.

The authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture are undermined by the teaching that God speaks still today “through prophecy, dreams, visions and other people.” Tongues and miracles are promoted as the evidences of the Spirit along with physical heat and other such phenomena, instead of the true “fruit of the Spirit” mentioned in Galatians 5.

The “gospel” presented in the Alpha Course is another gospel, not the “good news” of salvation through Jesus Christ, by the sovereign grace of God and through faith, the gift of God. May God preserve His church from such teaching.

VI. Is the
Alpha Course
of God, or is it heresy!***
by Gordon McGill

http://www.revivalscotland.com/alpha.html

Hundreds of thousands are being misled…

Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am writing to you about an aspect of satanic deception that inspires fervent animosity from the majority of Christian denominations. Even those who sincerely hold fast to Christ’s teachings have been taken in spiritual “slight of hand.” Churches everywhere are using this heresy as a tool for evangelism, thinking they are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and winning souls for the Kingdom. What follows will anger some people. I ask only one thing, have the guts to read this to the end, if you then feel that what I have said, is either unscriptural or based on false information, please contact me right away. I will retract everything I have said and publicly repent, as long as you have scriptural and contrary research to back up what you say.

If it were possible, even the very elect…

In a recent conversation with someone I consider to be a man of God, I was reminded of the power of this particular deception. When I mentioned that the Alpha Course was the last things we need to reach the lost, I got this response, “Gordon you are going right over the top this time. I’ve been to Holy Trinity Brompton and listened to the testimonies myself, and can tell you that the Alpha Course if a good thing” or words to that effect. My friend defended Alpha despite putting some of the information I’m going to share with you to him.

The Alpha Course has created a spiritual “blind spot” even long standing Christians cannot see how diabolical it is. My purpose is to blow the lid off this deception. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who have been suckered into this, however I would be concerned about anyone who, when presented with the bare facts, continues to walk in this darkness.

Before I share some of my extensive research with you I want to make some very important observations. These are general observations that hold true with anything that the enemy is using to deceive.

The first is, mass acceptance. When something like this gets world-wide acceptance it should set alarm bells ringing in out mind. This world belongs to God; the world system however, belongs to Satan. The Alpha Course has gained unprecedented support across all denominational lines. The enemy will only allow this if it serves his purpose to undermine the body of Christ.

The second is, Alpha has been embraced by the Catholic Church. To let you see how insidious this “blind spot” is, I refer back to my conversation with my Christian friend. I asked him, “Are you saying that the Catholic Church is running the Alpha Course in order to bring people to “faith in Jesus Christ?” Or do they run the course then induct the attendees into Mary worship, Idol worship and the Catholic Mass?” Still my friend defended Alpha. Let’s look at this more closely.

This is what’s so concerning, if a person has been called of God to pastor a church, wouldn’t the Lord also give that person everything they need to feed the flock in his charge? Of course he would! The Lord equips everyone He calls. If you are pasturing a church and you have to look to the apostate Anglican Church, for material to do your job, it may be prudent to ask yourself whether you are called to this office at all. If you do not know how to reach the lost and win souls to Christ, do you have any business leading God people? By deferring responsibility to feed the flock to the apostate Anglican Church, haven’t you disqualified yourself? Indeed isn’t it a mockery of the brave men and women of the Covenant who died to free themselves, their Church and their Country from the yoke of Roman Catholicism?

Why has the Roman Catholic Church adopted Alpha?

Let me quote from Alpha’s own material. The following comes from Alpha news and the article is entitled

“Nicky Gumbel meets Pope John Paul II.” ([Photo] Even the handshake looks Masonic)

“You may ask – “What is Alpha for Catholics?” Alpha for Catholics refers to the use of the Alpha course within the Catholic Church. It is the unchanged standard Alpha course. Alpha is compatible with Catholic teaching, but it does not present wholly Catholic issues. It assumes that follow-up teachings will be offered to Catholics and those wishing to become Catholic if they are not already. The Catholic Church world-wide is embracing the Alpha Course as it is being run in Catholic Parishes in over 30 countries, including Japan and Singapore in Asia, and now Hong Kong!” (Emphasis Mine) http://www.alpha.org.hk

To say that “Alpha is compatible with Catholic teaching” is tantamount to saying, “this teaching has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!” Any born again believer, cow-towing to the Papal crown, has seriously lost their way, not to mentions his/her love for Christ and His body. There was a time in Scotland when Foxes Book of Martyrs was required reading in all Churches, why? Because of the extreme danger of forgetting what our arch enemy is capable of. How soon we forget, how tragic the consequences!

The fish rots from the head down.

The Anglican Church is well and truly in the pocket of the Vatican Antichrist System.  Let’s look at the Anglican Church, perhaps they are a good Christian organisation and we are just intolerant. The following comes from; Virtue Online the “Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism” The article is entitled…

LOS ANGELES: Service celebrates 2 beliefs Episcopalians hold an Indian Rite Mass with Hindus and apologize for past religious discrimination.

“Hindu nun Pravrajika Saradeshaprana, dressed in a saffron robe, blew into a conch shell three times, calling to worship Hindu and Episcopal religious leaders who joined Saturday to celebrate an Indian Rite Mass at St. John’s Cathedral near downtown. The rare joint service included chants from the Temple Bhajan Band of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and a moving rendition of “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” sung by the St. John’s choir. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in worship service,” said Bob Bland, a member of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church of Thousand Oaks, who was among the 260 attendees. “There was something so holy — so much symbolism and so many opportunities for meditation.” By K. Connie Kang, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, The Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2008. (Emphasis mine)

Rowan Williams, the head of the Church, is a confirmed Druid, the following comes from…

Rebecca Allison, guardian.co.uk and was posted on Tuesday 6th August 2002, she writes, “An ancient early morning ceremony yesterday saw the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury stepping into a circle of Pembrokeshire stones and into a controversy. Rowan Williams donned a long white robe, stood inside the sacred circle in a mist shrouded field in Wales, and became a druid.” What
was the response from Rowan Williams when this news came out? “Some people have reached the wrong conclusion about the ceremony. If people had actually looked at the words of the hymns and text used they would have seen a very Christian service.” (Emphasis Mine)

You don’t need to believe me my friends, let the Anglican Bishops speak for themselves…

In the British newspaper the “Daily News” 25/6/84 under the heading “Shock survey of Anglican Bishops” We read “More than half of England’s Anglican Bishops say that Christians are not obliged to believe that Jesus Christ was God, according to a survey published today. The poll of 31 of England’s 39 bishops shows that many of them think that Christ’s miracles, the virgin birth and the resurrection might not have happened exactly as described in the Bible. Only 11 of the bishops insisted that Christians must regard Christ as both God and man, while 19 said it was sufficient to regard Jesus as ‘God’s supreme agent’ (Emphasis Mine)

If the Alpha Course is of God then why is it being adopted by the ungodly? The reason is very simple and should jolt us out of our complacency.

Matthew 7:15-19 “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”

Christ tells us, in no uncertain terms, that if the tree is bad, the fruit will also be bad. My friends you need to research this for yourself! I have found a link to Alpha that goes back to the Toronto Blessing, look here: http://www.firstplumbline.net/html/drnickygumbalthepowersbehindthealphacoursepart1.html

I could go on all day adding one damning thing on top of another. But I’m not going to add any more research material; this is something you need to study yourself. When I speak to some Christians I’m utterly appalled at how ignorant they are about how their enemy operates. Brothers and Sisters let me ask you to stop for a moment and consider what is going on hear. We have a tool for evangelism that is running around the world gaining momentum as it goes. It has been adopted into every denomination and most non-denominational church’s world wide. People are being “recruited” into Churches, and the church is getting weaker. Almost no one is preaching repentance. Instead we are inviting people over for a meal and a discussion about the “meaning of life” preaching a social message, avoiding offending anyone, hoping they will make a decision for Christ.

This is complete and total MADNESS! Hear is what we are saying in essence, “no one comes unto the father except the church persuades them” Is this the Gospel of Christ? How much longer will we deceive ourselves? We get into a huddle and pray for our town, pleading with God. We invite friendly comfortable people we know to “come along to our church… you’ll really enjoy it.” When we get really frustrated because our church isn’t growing, what do we come up with? “Right I’ve had enough of this, we’re going to get into the community and make something happen… let’s put an advert in the paper and invite people to an Alpha Course!? Does this sound pathetic? It should. We will do anything except what Christ commanded us to do. “Go ye therefore…”

What is the biblical model?

Get out into the highways and byways and preach that the kingdom of God has come near. If they accept your message let your blessing remain, if they reject it, remove your blessing and wipe the dust off your sandals then move on. Wherever you go lay hands on the sick, cast out demons, cleanse the leper and raise the dead. When people repent make disciples of them, how? The same way Christ did. Demonstrate the power of God, teach biblical basics then send the disciples out to do what they have seen done! Freely you have received, freely give.

Some of us have been languishing in Church for decades being “fed” telling ourselves and others “we’re not called to go out and compel others to hear the Gospel, we are going to pray for the lost in our closet” This is a lie from hell.

I was one of these people, that’s why I can testify to this. There is blood on my hands also. But no more! It’s time to get on with what we are called to do. If you are one of those who have had enough, get in touch, there is much to be done, the harvest is white, I’m asking you to be one of the few who will hear this wake up call, whilst there is still time. May God have mercy on us all.

***************************************************************************************** Just in! Just before posting this newsletter I found this from the Gay Episcopalian Bishop who prayed for the new president at his swearing in ceremony.

A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama by The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Opening Inaugural Event Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC January 18, 2009 “Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president. O God of our many understandings…” Whose God is he praying to?

Where will it all end? Brothers and sister if we don’t take a stand for truth, who will? This man is not a repentant homosexual, he is a practicing homosexual. The new president has appointed this man as his advisor on Gay rights. What utter and total madness indeed. This is the track record of the organisation that produces Alpha. How can good fruit come from a bad tree?

VII. THE ALPHA COURSE
– FINAL ANSWER OR FATAL ATTRACTION?
by G. Richard Fisher 1998

http://www.pfo.org/alpha-cr.htm

When the April 27, 1998, edition of Christianity Today magazine ran a full-page advertisement promoting a new line of resources by the respected Christian publisher, David C. Cook Communications, how could one doubt the trustworthiness of such materials? If along with that, they were endorsed in that same promotion by J.I. Packer, Alister McGrath, Luis Palau and Leighton Ford, how could one hesitate even for a moment — how could one resist? Surely this is a bandwagon worthy of a ride.

The Alpha program sounds like a great idea. After all, with such heavyweights backing it and a program to facilitate an introduction to the Christian faith (with weekend retreats and group discussions) it has to be good — or does it? If nothing else, one must admit that Alpha is packaged impressively for maximum sales.

Popularity does not mean that something is true. If it did, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny would be real entities. Popularity does not automatically equal truth nor can it create truth.

ALPHA ROOTS

The Alpha Course originated in the United Kingdom at Holy Trinity Brompton Church — an Anglican church in London — through curates Nicky Gumbel and Sandy Millar. The earliest versions go as far back as 1977. Gumbel began teaching the current version in 1990. He acknowledges that it is always open to revision.

Author Dave Hunt reminds us that “Holy Trinity Brompton in London … became the center of holy laughter for England and Europe.”1 It has become known for the knock ’em down services and “slaying” marathons that are traced to a purported anointing by the former Toronto Airport Vineyard Church pastored by John Arnott. Taxis are provided at Holy Trinity for parishioners too “drunk in the Spirit” to drive home from services. Such activity is a blatant violation of the rules of decorum in worship outlined in 1 Corinthians 14.

Evangelist Stephen Hill, who helps oversee the pandemonium at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Fla., claims he received his “anointing” and powerful “slaying in the Spirit” abilities from Holy Trinity Brompton. People believe he is a conduit for the “power.” Our personal experience with Hill is you go down only if you want to go down.2

“The Brownsville Outpouring” has now become a traveling road show with all kinds of “revival” paraphernalia for sale which generates hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the revival’s key players.3
The Pensacola News Journal articles document that Brownsville leaders continue to be loose with the truth as they rake in incredibly huge amounts of cash which are being partly socked into personal real estate. Brownsville’s “power,” in the words of Rev. Ike, seems to be “green power” in the final analysis.

ALPHA BRITS

The Feb. 9, 1998, issue of Christianity Today featured a four-page news report on the Alpha Course titled “The Alpha-Brits Are Coming.” The magazine explained the acronym ALPHA:

“A—Anyone interested in finding out more about the Christian faith; L—Learning and Laughter; P—Pasta (eating together gives people the chance to know each other); H—Helping one another (small groups are used for discussion of issues raised during the lectures); A—Ask anything. No question is seen as too simple or too hostile.”4

The same article went on to say that not all is well in Alpha land:

“An infectious enthusiasm, entrepreneurial spirit, and a bold plan for growth are all trademarks among Alpha’s top leaders. But not everyone is cheering Alpha onward. Some church leaders have found Alpha teaching too charismatic, too experience-driven, and too negative about traditional churches. Martyn Percy, director of the Lincoln Theological Institute for the Study of Religion and Society of the University of Sheffield, England, has commented about Alpha that it is ‘a package rather than a pilgrimage.’ In a recent essay, he said, ‘It is a confident but narrow expression of Christianity, which stresses the personal experience of the Spirit over the Spirit in the church. … The Alpha approach has been faulted for pushing an experience-driven approach to evangelism that sidesteps intellectual difficulties.”5

There is no doubting that the Alpha program, like many other fads, caught on with the help of slick marketing by David C. Cook Communications and is enjoying worldwide success, at least for now. The previously mentioned Christianity Today advertisement says that a half-million people took the course in 1997 alone.

ALPHA BITS

The Alpha Course is an array of videos, audiocassettes, books, booklets, testimonials and leader’s videos and guidebooks. One would have to spend hundreds of dollars to buy all the paraphernalia.

The Alpha Course and program is also promoted and endorsed by glowing personal testimonies but on close examination has many weaknesses and falls short of meeting biblical scrutiny. Isaiah 8:20 reminds us: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Jim Jones, even in the final hours of his regime in Guyana, could produce glowing testimonials. Collective cheerleading does not create truth.

One such testimony reported by Christianity Today is that of Keith Prestridge, a former punk rocker:

“Prestridge offered a pugilist’s description of Alpha’s Holy Spirit weekend: ‘They laid hands on me, and I knew release, you know? I know those of you who have felt the Spirit know what it’s like. It’s like being in a good fight and suddenly being knocked out.”6

One would have to search long and hard to find a verse that would compare the Holy Spirit to a boxer who beats up people! This is reminiscent of John Wimber’s fantasy of Jesus as a sumo wrestler who beats people around.7 And one has to look even harder for a Scripture verse that says you can “feel” the Holy Spirit.

Though the Alpha Course is mostly held in Vineyard and Charismatic churches, Roman Catholic, Anglican and other groups are using them.8 Doctrinal issues have been diminished or ignored in spite of 1 Timothy 4:13, 16.

ALPHA CRITICISM

The British publication, The Christian Research Network Journal, has scrutinized the Alpha program and come up with six major criticisms. The Journal says the Alpha Course is: “massively over-hyped and spiritually deceptive … with its wholly inadequate view of Christian conversion and experience.”9

Chris Hand in his analysis of Alpha concludes the following:

“1. The God of Alpha is not the God of the Bible. … it does not present us with the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. … It simply fails to tell us anything we need to know about God.

2. The plight of man in Alpha is not as serious as in the Bible.Alpha does not use strong terms and leaves us rather unclear about where we stand. As one follows its argument, sin is more to be seen in the way we have ‘messed up our lives.’… For all the gravity of sin, Alpha never allows us to feel too bad about ourselves. It never permits us to see ourselves in God’s sight. That is a big omission.

3. The Jesus Christ of Alpha is not the Jesus Christ of the Bible. … despite having part of the course titled ‘Why did Jesus die?’, it is unable in the final analysis to answer this question. …

4. The love of God in Alpha is not the love of God of the Bible. … The God of the Bible is love but it is love that is seen in His willingness to save sinners. … without the context of God’s holiness and absolute perfection, the meaning of love is lost to us. …

5. The Holy Spirit of Alpha is not the Holy Spirit of the Bible.Alpha’s ‘Spirit’ appears to work in ways that lie outside the confines of Scripture. Whoever it is that people are ‘introduced’ to at the Alpha Weekend, it is not the Holy Spirit. But whoever this mysterious guest is, he is equally at home with the ecstatic gatherings of New Age enthusiasts and non-Christian religions alike.

6. Conversions in Alpha are not like the conversions in the Bible. … More often than not it is an emotional experience about the love of God but without any understanding of holiness or the need to be saved from our sins. … For all its efforts, Alpha does not help us to know God. It does not describe the true and living God for us. It does not diagnose man’s condition accurately enough. … it is unable to supply us with the ‘good news’.”10

Alpha is just new window dressing on the old “Holy Ghost bartender” theme, the Toronto theme and the Brownsville reruns. It could be retitled “Steps to Frenzy” or “Finding God in My Feelings”, or “Letting Out the Animal Inside.” The result is not unlike the old Esalen groups, primal scream therapy or the lunacy of a drug experience.

ALPHA DEFICIENCIES

Alan Howe informs us:

“Central to the Alpha Course is not the Christian gospel, but the so-called ‘Holy Spirit Weekend’ which is in fact a thinly-disguised opportunity for initiation into the Toronto Blessing experience. Nicky Gumbel, curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton had received the ‘blessing’ from Eleanor Mumford of the South-West London Vineyard following her return from Toronto in May 1994. Subsequent to this event, Toronto-style teaching concerning the reception of the Holy Spirit took centre-stage. An unknown evangelistic tool had thus become a syncretistic mixture of orthodoxy and heresy.”11

ALPHA SHAKE AND BAKE

A close look at the words of Nicky Gumbel, as quoted by the CRN Journal, show the real direction of the Alpha Course. Gumbel unashamedly is trying to move people into esoteric experiences, altered states of consciousness, self-hypnosis and mindless emotionalism and then tell his followers it is all of God. Gumbel uses “God’s words” to move people toward the ultimate end which is hysteria, loss of control and mindlessness.

Gumbel says that the purpose of the Holy Spirit weekends is to expect all kinds of strange manifestations and bodily agitations. Consider his comments:

“Sometimes, when people are filled, they shake like a leaf in the wind. Others find themselves breathing deeply as if almost physically breathing in the Spirit. … Physical heat sometimes accompanies the filling of the Spirit and people experience it in their hands or some other part of their bodies. One person described a feeling of ‘glowing all over’. Another said she experienced ‘liquid heat’. Still another described ‘burning in my arms when I was not hot’.”12

Surely this cannot be far behind the Mormon’s “burning in the bosom” where truth is sacrificed for feeling and we no longer walk by faith but by tingles, sensations and subjective, fallible impressions.

Someone should make Gumbel aware that one can get the same results practicing pagan Kundalini. Edward Andrews, in documenting the emotional excesses of the heretical Shakers, reports phenomenon that would parallel Gumbel’s excesses.

To suggest that the kinds of manifestations encouraged in Alpha could be remotely connected to Christianity is absurd. They are more readily a product of self-hypnosis, suggestion and altered states of consciousness or even perhaps the demonic and occultic.

The Alpha Course may very well be a huge success in a society driven by a need for new experiences, new highs and out-of-control emotionalism but when held up to the pure light of Scripture, it is an enormous failure. No matter who publishes it or who endorses it, the final question is: How does it all conform to the Word of God?

In his interview with Christianity Today, Gumbel indicated that the Alpha Course is evolving. What Alpha is today, it may not be tomorrow. Could it get worse? Gumbel said: “We haven’t got everything perfect. Alpha is alive. It’s not fixed.”13

ALPHA SOURCE

This writer has read Gumbel’s book, Questions of Life, which is the main text for Alpha teaching. The 263-page volume relies on mainstream evangelical writers, as well as the likes of the aberrant John Wimber.

Though agreeing for the most part with the CRN Journal article, this writer might have stressed things from a slightly different perspective and have had less concern for a few of the points. Maybe we could call it giving the devil his due.

CRN said that “The God of Alpha is not the God of the Bible.” It is true that Questions of Life presents no real doctrine of God nor does it seek to teach about His person, character or attributes. Alpha leaders would probably reply that their introduction to the Christian faith is limited in nature or to a particular theme. Namely, that it mainly addresses Jesus, salvation and living the Christian life and is not presenting systematic theology of all the doctrines of Scripture as do other books.

But failure to present even the basics about the person of God (in evangelism) may leave the person being witnessed to, in various forms of mental idolatry or a new age mentality, which is a faulty foundation for any supposed conversion. Alpha passes over the person of God. Evangelization without some proper understanding of God is suspect and deficient. Here CRN is absolutely right.

Secondly, the plight of man in Alpha is not as serious as in the Bible. In fairness, Gumbel does talk of the “pollution of sin,” as well as “the power of sin” and “the penalty of sin.”14 He does elaborate on Romans 3:23.15 Gumbel does talk about the evil that comes out of a man’s heart and our guilt because of breaking God’s laws.16 Gumbel’s emphasis on the consequences of sin, which he discusses early in the book, pulls the reader in by way of identification. Gumbel has not entirely missed it here, though he does at other points.

Next is the comment that the “Jesus Christ of Alpha is not the Jesus Christ of the Bible.” In his chapter, “Who Is Jesus?,” Gumbel draws straight from Josh McDowell, C.S. Lewis and F.F. Bruce. Gumbel does a fairly good job on the deity of Christ, fulfilled prophecies and the resurrection of the Savior. How could he not have in transcribing from the three above-mentioned scholars?

In Gumbel’s section, “Why Did Jesus Die?,” there was enough information on substitution and crucifixion, as well as Scripture citations on the work of Christ, to satisfy this writer.

The successive comment that the “love of God in Alpha is not the love of the God of the Bible” is a deficiency which could well go back to the first point. In stressing the love of God apart from the balance of all His other attributes, one is left with faulty views of God. Love without holiness and justice is not real love at all.

Concerning the observation that the “Holy Spirit of Alpha is not the Holy Spirit of the Bible,” Gumbel devotes 13 pages giving a fairly mainstream answer to “Who Is The Holy Spirit?”17 The Holy Spirit, in Questions of Life, is presented in orthodox terms and in textbook fashion. The big problem comes in the pages to follow, which speaks to the issue of: How does the Holy Spirit act and what does He do to believers?

Here, Gumbel wanders off the biblical path and into the twilight zone of speculation and emotionalism. The Holy Spirit of Alpha is not the Comforter who assists us in the development of the fruit of the Spirit and practical Christian living but is a capricious being who makes us do all kinds of weird and crazy things. His theme song could well be “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” If one could speak of heresies in sanctification, it would be here. If there are converts, they are now thrown into the briars and thickets of pure speculation, human imagination and emotional excess.

The “believer” is inundated with teaching about tongues-speaking and burning body parts.18 We are asked and expected to believe in the late John Wimber’s words of knowledge.19 The old party line on healing is spelled out.20 We are instructed to seek guidance in visions, voices and dreams.21 The maternity room turns into the twilight zone and a maze for the new converts.

This is typical charismatic fare without a hint from Gumbel that some things in the Bible may be historic and descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive. No one has recently reproduced the parting of the Red Sea (or any sea), manna from heaven, the raising of the dead or miraculous deliverances from prison, but only sensationalism that man can produce emotionally and in altered states. In fact, Gumbel’s speculation about how the Spirit works misrepresents the Holy Spirit and His work today. There is much attention to sensationalism and little to the fruit of the Spirit. CRN is “right on” in this criticism.

Finally, CNR remarks that the “conversions in Alpha are not like conversions in the Bible.” Time will tell on this one. But conversions based on a faulty foundation and misinformation about God cannot last. Converts (if they are) led into the quicksand of emotions, altered states of consciousness, wild emotional weekends, and the pursuit of dreams and visions, have no real future and will wash out. The conversion stories that CRN detailed are questionable and are more like occultic experiences than Christian ones. One can only mourn for these “converts.” Only God knows if they are truly born or “stillborn.”

ALPHA KINGDOM

One area of major concern not addressed by CRN is Gumbel’s teaching of Kingdom Now theology. Kingdom Now theology (sometimes called Dominionism or Triumphalism) is the teaching that we can now have (with enough faith) all or most of the physical and health benefits promised at Christ’s ultimate and perfect Kingdom. In other words, we can begin to claim for ourselves most Kingdom benefits here and now.

The illusion that we can now have the physical aspects of God’s perfect future Kingdom is expressed in this way by Gumbel, “The Kingdom is both ‘now’ and ‘not yet.'”22 Gumbel also says that the age to come can be realized in principle in this age. He goes on to affirm:

“We live between the times, when the age to come has broken into history. The old age goes on, but the powers of the new era have erupted into this age. … healing is one of the signs of the Kingdom which was inaugurated by Jesus Christ and continues to this day. Hence we should expect God to continue to heal miraculously today as part of His Kingdom activity.”23

Apologist Hank Hanegraaff appraises the Kingdom Now illusions in these words:

“Leaders of the Counterfeit Revival demand the Kingdom now! — in this life, with all of its attendant material wealth, public accolades, physical health, and earthly power.”24

Gumbel bases his Kingdom Now theology on his misinterpretation of two Scriptures. First, he cites the questionable (and often disputed) Mark 16:15-20. And like most of his persuasion, he is selective. He does not press the verse and suggest that he handles poisonous serpents or that he can empty out cemeteries. Why not do it all?

The Mark 16 passage cited above is hotly disputed as to authenticity. Historically the orthodox position on the Scripture has been the inspiration and inerrancy of the original autographs. No one should base major claims on a few verses that are legitimately questionable. The rejection of these verses based on internal and external evidence in no way alters crucial doctrines of the Christian life.25

Charles R. Erdman, commenting on the Gospel of Mark, affirms that: “The closing verses of this Gospel are commonly regarded as an appendix, added by a later hand.”26

The Geneva Bible explains the controversy over the ending of the Gospel of Mark:

“Scholars differ regarding whether these verses were originally part of this Gospel. Some important early Greek manuscripts lack these verses, other manuscripts have vv. 9-20 (known as the ‘Longer Ending’), and still others have a ‘Shorter Ending’ (roughly one verse long). A few manuscripts have both the ‘Shorter Ending’ and the ‘Longer Ending.’ Because of these differences some scholars believe that vv. 9-20 were added later and not written by Mark.”27

In his further attempts to justify Kingdom Now ideas, Gumbel also quotes John 14:12 that says those that believe will do greater works than Jesus. If Gumbel’s view is true he should lead the way in regularly walking on water, multiplying food, raising the dead, demonstrating a transfiguration body, changing water to wine, healing masses of incurable diseases, controlling storms and getting tax money from the mouth of fish. After all, how else could we do greater works than Jesus? Certainly Gumbel is not a model of his own teaching. Having someone fall down or say their headache is gone or they have a warm feeling in their elbow is a comic illusion and a charade when compared to the power and scope of the ministry of Christ.

Gumbel should be honest and point out that many able expositors say that the greater works have to do with more extensive results in the conversion of more sinners. The word “greater” is not used to show the exertion of power but rather the effects of Gospel preaching. Christ’s lifetime ministry (as miraculous as it was) ended with just a few at the cross. His post-resurrection ministry through the Apostles and the Church has brought untold millions to the experience of salvation.

Alexander Maclaren observes: “… the comparison is drawn between the limited sphere and the small results of Christ’s work upon earth, and the worldwide sweep and majestic magnitude of the results of the application of that work by His servants’ witnessing work. The wider and more complete spiritual results achieved by the ministration of the servants than by the ministration of the Lord is the point of comparison here. And I need only remind you that the poorest Christian who can go to a brother soul, and by word or life can draw that soul to a Christ whom it apprehends as dying for its sins and raised for its glorifying, does a mightier thing than it was possible for the Master to do by life or lip whilst He was here upon earth.”28

Likewise, distinguished Bible teacher Oliver B. Greene points out: “Greek scholars tell us that this phrase in the Greek reads, ‘And greater than these shall he do.’

Notice the word ‘works’ is not there; therefore it stands to reason that Jesus was not referring to physical miracles, but rather to something else that would be of greater magnitude than raising a dead person or healing a sick body. The apostles would do something greater than the miracles He had performed, and I do not doubt that He was speaking of the preaching of the Gospel. Preaching the Gospel of a risen and exalted Christ, proclaiming the grace of God to every creature, pointing souls from darkness to light and causing unbelievers to be born of the Spirit is a far greater miracle than healing a leper or causing a withered arm to be made whole.”29

Dr. Harry Ironside further points out: “When you realize that when Jesus left this scene, committing His gospel to a little group of eleven men in order that they might carry it to the ends of the earth, at that time the whole world, with the exception of a few in Israel, was lost in the darkness of heathenism. But in three hundred years Christianity closed nearly all the temples of the heathen Roman Empire, and numbered its converts by millions. These were the greater works, and down through the centuries He still carries on this ministry.”30

Charles Ryrie comments on John 14:12: “Greater in extent (through the worldwide preaching of the gospel) and effect (the spiritual redemption and placing in the body of Christ multitudes of people since the day of Pentecost).”31

In The Geneva Study Bible’s Gospel of John, the following commentary is offered: “14:12 greater works than these. History proves that Jesus is not affirming that each believer will do greater miracles than He did. The church’s work in the power of the Holy Spirit will be ‘greater’ than Jesus’ works in number and territory.”32

Is the Kingdom “now,” in any sense? Certainly the Kingdom was embodied in Christ. There was a partially “now” aspect as the King walked the earth healing sicknesses and commanding demons, giving us a glimpse of the perfect Kingdom. Since His Ascension, our Lord, through the Holy Spirit, extends the spiritual blessings of the Kingdom through forgiveness, redemption and salvation. He Himself said, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The perfect and completed Kingdom is yet to come.

A Sunday school child would know that earth is not heaven and that we pray for the Kingdom to come. That complete final perfect Kingdom will come when the King comes again (Matthew 26:29).

Our physical corruption awaits the day it will put on incorruption and perfection (1 Corinthians 15). We wait for the redemption of our body (Romans 8:23).

George Eldon Ladd describes the sharp differences between spiritual blessings (and benefits of the mediated Kingdom at this time) and the completed and perfect Kingdom with all its physical benefits and blessings in this way: “The presence of the messianic salvation is also seen in Jesus’ miracles of healing for which the Greek word meaning ‘to save’ is used. The presence of the Kingdom of God in Jesus meant deliverance from hemorrhage (Mark 5:34), blindness (Mark 10:52), demon possession (Luke 8:36) and even death itself (Mark 5:23). Jesus claimed that these deliverances were evidences of the presence of the messianic salvation (Matt. 11:4-5). They were pledges of the life of the eschatological Kingdom which would finally mean immortality for the body. The Kingdom of God is concerned not only with men’s souls but with the salvation of the whole man.”33

Ladd continues: “The limitation of these physical deliverances illustrates the nature of the present Kingdom in contrast to its future manifestation. In the eschatological Kingdom, all ‘who are accounted worthy to attain to that age’ (Luke 20:35) will be saved from sickness and death in the immortal life of the resurrection. In the present working of the Kingdom [Christ’s earthly ministry], this saving power reached only a few. Not all the sick and crippled were saved, nor were all the dead raised. Only three instances of restoration to life are recorded in the Gospels. Men must come into direct contact with Jesus or His disciples to be healed (Mark 6:56). The saving power of the Kingdom was not yet universally operative.”34

ALF – ALPHA

Alpha’s deficiencies outweigh any merit. The acrostic ALF can be used to remember the deficiencies.

Advocating Kingdom Now theories.
Locked into fickle emotions.
Faulty biblical understanding.

Gumbel has some truth but much error. The Alpha course is a well-packaged meal with a dose of e. coli. The non-discerning are at risk. The naive may “hold the finger of a small idea and forget the fist of falsities that are smuggled in, in the process.”35

The idea of a fatal attraction has come to mean a relationship that was thought to be wonderful, finally turning out to destroy a person. The Alpha Course may very well fit that description as it claims to take people through Bible terrain but in reality turns them inward to their emotions and experiences. It locks them into a detour and cycle of fickle emotions, carnal feelings and self-focus and away from the true lover of their souls. It will be another fad that will leave people dazed, confused, and worse off in the long run. So-called Holy Ghost weekends cannot compare to a sane and balanced daily walk with Jesus Christ through the Scriptures.

As a pastor, hardly a week goes by that there is not someone on the phone trying to sell me a new program, a new video or new curriculum that is going to “make” my church all it needs to be. My conviction is that the Scriptures are all I need to make my church what it should be. The problem is so many people are sidetracked and detoured, keeping up with all the new fads being shoved in their faces and hawked at every turn. We need to “just say no” to the deluge of new programs, so-called revival paraphernalia, the marketing and prostitution of Christianity, as well as the hucksters and sit down with the Scriptures daily and let God’s Word minister to us (2 Timothy 3:15-17). We need to turn from the distractions and fatal attractions and pour ourselves into our local churches, using our gifts for ministry.

Endnotes:

1. Dave Hunt, Occult Invasion. Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 1997, pg. 521.
2. See further, The Quarterly Journal, April-June 1997, “The Murky River of Brownsville” and January-March 1998, “The Raging River of Brownsville.”
3. See further, The Pensacola News Journal’s series of feature articles from November 16-20, 1997. Also subsequent articles by the newspaper on March 5, 1998, April 5, 1998 and June 21-24, 1998. Also see the editorial “The Green River of Brownsville — Lifestyles of the Rich and Not-so Famous” in this issue of the Journal.
4. Christianity Today, Feb. 9, 1998, pg. 37.
5. Ibid., pp. 37, 39. 6. Ibid., pg. 38.
7. See further, Hank Hanegraaff, Counterfeit Revival. Dallas: Word Publishers, 1997, pg. 191.
8. Christianity Today, op. cit., Feb. 9, 1998, pg. 38.
9. The Christian Research Network Journal, Spring 1998, pg. 22.
10. Ibid., pp. 20-21. 11. Ibid., pg. 12. 12. Ibid., pg. 21.
13. Christianity Today, op. cit., Feb. 9, 1998, pg. 39.
14. Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Life. Colorado Springs, Colo.: David C. Cook Communications, 1996, pp. 44-47.
15. Ibid., pg. 44. 16. Ibid., pp. 44-45.
17. Ibid., pp. 119-131.
18. Ibid., pg. 152.
19. Ibid., pp. 199-200.
20. Ibid., pp. 199-215.
21. Ibid., pp. 103-118.
22. Ibid., pg. 44.
23. Ibid., pp. 204, 206.
24. Counterfeit Revival, op. cit., pg. 108.
25. For a fuller investigation, see James R. White, The King James Only Controversy. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995, especially pp. 150, 255-257.
26. Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Mark. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1967, pg. 198.
27. The Geneva Bible, pg. 1597.
28. Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture – St. John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1984, pg. 307.
29. Oliver B. Greene, The Gospel According To John. Greenville, S.C.: The Gospel Hour, Inc., Vol. 2, 1973, pp. 369-370.
30. Harry Ironside, Addresses on The Gospel of John. Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1984, pg. 619.
31. The Ryrie Study Bible, New Testament, pg. 191.
32. The Geneva Bible, pg. 1691.
33. George Eldon Ladd, Jesus And The Kingdom. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1964, pg. 207, emphasis added.
34. Ibid., emphasis added. For a fuller treatment of Kingdom Now theology, the people who advocate it, and the nuances of difference between them, see: Michael G. Moriarty, The New Charismatics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992; H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1988; and Bruce Barron, Heaven on Earth? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992.
35. Quote from Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil, tape #2, Word Video Resources, 1997.

VIII. THE ALPHA COURSE – IS IT THE FINAL ANSWER OR A FATAL ATTRACTION?***

http://newsletters.cephasministry.com/alpha_fatal_attraction.html

The Alpha Course keeps coming up and is widely used in many areas as you will see in this discussion and not many are tackling the subject investigating what’s behind it and why it has taken off like it has.

Sandy Simpson of Discernment Ministry ‘Deception in the Church’ collected material which point to the dangers of the Alpha Course.

The Alpha Course is a course that has been used by many as a way to attempt to introduce the false doctrines and practices of the Third Wave into mainstream denominations. Sandy wrote: “I was dumbfounded when I found out some of the people who endorse this course. Among them were the Salvation Army and, most notably, Luis Palau.”

Only criticising future possibilities, Gordon Lewis, a senior professor of theology and philosophy at Denver Seminary, applauds Alpha’s methods and much of its content. Yet he wishes Alpha emphasized salvation through grace alone, and the Bible as the only inerrant Word of God. Gordon Lewis partners with Watchman Fellowship, who is the authority in Discernment and a Watchman on the Wall. Together they head EMNR, an organization which has collected close to all counter cult ministries to control what information is published and members have to sign off on the ecumenical Lausanne Covenant founded by Rev. Billy Graham, in spite of the fact that Graham has been exposed. See book by Dr. Cathy Burns, ‘Billy Graham and His Friends’: World Council of Churches, Interfaith, Union Theological Seminary, A Hidden Agenda, published by Sharing in 2001.

”I am concerned that the Catholics could add tradition, the Mormons could add the Book of Mormon, the Christian Scientists could add Mary Baker Eddy, and the Seventh-day Adventists could add Ellen G. White,” Lewis says. Source: Adaptable Alpha Course Draws Praise and Worry, Christianity Today, Nov. 12, 2001

Sandy Simpson in ‘Beware of the Alpha Course’ writes the following: “Perhaps the preachers and evangelists who have endorsed this course need to take a longer look at their Bibles. Jesus NEVER laid hands on his disciples, the result of which were “manifestations” of uncontrollable laughter, mayhem, shaking, animal noises, vomiting, or any of the other demonic disorder of the Toronto and Brownsville “things”. Luis Palau, of all people, had better wake up to this deception that is sweeping the churches of Europe and is now being used around the world.

The first DT item was on 30th September, page10, about the World Council of Churches. The second on 1st October, about the Church of Rome and the Eucharist.

We all (I hope) know that Alpha has become a front for both Ecumenism and Toronto. It is therefore not surprising that its Theological content is lacking in many respects. Any course that can appeal to the range of traditions and denominations that Alpha does; must of necessity sacrifice many essential truths. It is to be expected, and yet sad to observe, so many “evangelicals” going happily and willingly down this “broad” road. This fact alone, of course, begs the question; just exactly what is an evangelical today? It is suggested by this aspect of Alpha alone, that every evangelical participating in Alpha, is betraying the very Gospel they claim to uphold. When people ask me how can I be so critical of something of which I have no personal experience; my usual reply is that I do not need to put my hand into a fire to prove if it will burn.

The second aspect of my note is about the Roman Catholic position in ecumenical matters. Here again most evangelicals must be either blind or ignorant of Rome’s way of doing things. Rome has never changed one iota of the articles of the Council of Trent. Her attitude has always been one of waiting and persuading all to return to the “One True Church”. While everyone else it seems is only too willing to compromise in the ecumenical cause, Rome has steadfastly given nothing away. It never ceases to amaze me, that so many think Rome is somehow different since Vatican 2. This is the cleverness of the Roman system. She lulls everyone into a sense of false security before swallowing them up. Just look at how many of our institutional churches and others are making overtures to Rome, and you begin to see how successful Rome has been. She lulls everyone into thinking she is sharing, when all the time she is taking over. This is why Alpha is a ready tool for Rome to exploit. While every-one is enjoying a meal and warm company, totally unaware of what is really going on under their very noses.

A further point to notice since the Songs of Praise program devoted to Alpha is the dishonesty of the propaganda. Did any of you notice how Alpha’s history was glossed over in half a sentence; and how Nicky Gumbel was strangely absent in voice? You have to admit the propagandists have done a very skillful piece of work, but then this is precisely what you would expect from something that will be a major factor in the World Church scene.

To speak against Alpha is being made very difficult, but is all the more necessary. We see churches and fellowships going headlong into this abyss, but some will listen and be saved, and so we carry on. Incidentally, I just received in today’s post a leaflet from the Salvation Army promoting Alpha for young people. God help us all. God bless you all, Source: http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/alpha.html

Excerpts from G. Richard Fisher’s website Personal Freedom Outreach we do find an analysis that reads as follows. Addressing Alpha Deficiencies, Alan Howe informs us: “Central to the Alpha Course is not the Christian gospel, but the so-called ‘Holy Spirit Weekend’ which is in fact a thinly-disguised opportunity for initiation into the Toronto Blessing experience. Nicky Gumbel, curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton had received the ‘blessing’ from Eleanor Mumford of the South-West London Vineyard following her return from Toronto in May 1994. Subsequent to this event, Toronto-style teaching concerning the reception of the Holy Spirit took centre-stage. An unknown evangelistic tool had thus become a syncretistic mixture of orthodoxy and heresy.”

In Alpha Shake and Bake, Fisher stated, a close look at the words of Nicky Gumbel, a former atheist, as quoted by the Christian Research Network Journal, show the real direction of the Alpha Course. Gumbel unashamedly is trying to move people into esoteric experiences, altered states of consciousness, self-hypnosis and mindless emotionalism and then tell his followers it is all of God. Gumbel uses “God’s words” to move people toward the ultimate end which is hysteria, loss of control and mindlessness.

CRN Journal said that “The God of Alpha is not the God of the Bible.” It is true that Questions of Life presents no real doctrine of God nor does it seek to teach about His person, character or attributes. Alpha leaders would probably reply that their introduction to the Christian faith is limited in nature or to a particular theme. Namely, that it mainly addresses Jesus, salvation and living the Christian life and is not presenting systematic theology of all the doctrines of Scripture as do other books.

But failure to present even the basics about the person of God (in evangelism) may leave the person being witnessed to, in various forms of mental idolatry or a new age mentality, which is a faulty foundation for any supposed conversion. Alpha passes over the person of God. Evangelization without some proper understanding of God is suspect and deficient. Here CRN is absolutely right.

One area of major concern not addressed by CRN is Gumbel’s teaching of Kingdom Now theology. Kingdom Now theology (sometimes called Dominionism or Triumphalism) is the teaching that we can now have (with enough faith) all or most of the physical and health benefits promised at Christ’s ultimate and perfect Kingdom. In other words, we can begin to claim for ourselves most Kingdom benefits here and now.

The illusion that we can now have the physical aspects of God’s perfect future Kingdom is expressed in this way by Gumbel, “The Kingdom is both ‘now’ and ‘not yet.'” Gumbel also says that the age to come can be realized in principle in this age. He goes on to affirm: “We live between the times, when the age to come has broken into history. The old age goes on, but the powers of the new era have erupted into this age. … healing is one of the signs of the Kingdom which was inaugurated by Jesus Christ and continues to this day. Hence we should expect God to continue to heal miraculously today as part of His Kingdom activity.”

Alpha’s deficiencies outweigh any merit. The acrostic ALF can be used to remember the deficiencies.

Advocating Kingdom Now theories. Locked into fickle emotions. Faulty biblical understanding.

Gumbel has some truth but much error. The Alpha course is a well-packaged meal with a dose of e. coli. The non-discerning are at risk. The naive may “hold the finger of a small idea and forget the fist of falsities that are smuggled in, in the process.”

The idea of a fatal attraction has come to mean a relationship that was thought to be wonderful, finally turning out to destroy a person. The Alpha Course may very well fit that description as it claims to take people through Bible terrain but in reality turns them inward to their emotions and experiences. It locks them into a detour and cycle of fickle emotions, carnal feelings and self-focus and away from the true lover of their souls. It will be another fad that will leave people dazed, confused, and worse off in the long run. So-called Holy Ghost weekends cannot compare to a sane and balanced daily walk with Jesus Christ through the Scriptures.

Fisher writes: “As a pastor, hardly a week goes by that there is not someone on the phone trying to sell me a new program, a new video or new curriculum that is going to “make” my church all it needs to be. My conviction is that the Scriptures are all I need to make my church what it should be. The problem is so many people are sidetracked and detoured, keeping up with all the new fads being shoved in their faces and hawked at every turn. We need to “just say no” to the deluge of new programs, so-called revival paraphernalia, the marketing and prostitution of Christianity, as well as the hucksters and sit down with the Scriptures daily and let God’s Word minister to us (2 Timothy 3:15-17). We need to turn from the distractions and fatal attractions and pour ourselves into our local churches, using our gifts for ministry. Source: http://pfo.org/alpha-cr.htm

ALPHA’S UNIQUE RELATIONSHIP TO ROME

We received a book to place in our http://www.a2zbookdepot.adelink.net in the apostasy section, page 6. ‘ALPHA, the unofficial guide’, which is an overview of the whole Alpha Course and its pros and cons. It was written by Elisabeth McDonald and Dusty Peterson and can be attained by clicking on this link provided http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~emcd/index5.htm. We can’t purchase in quantity due to lack of funding.

In Part Two: When in Rome… Chapter 6, Alpha’s Unique Relationship, we find: “Alpha refers to the Roman Catholic Church more frequently – and more positively – than to another religious body. This must surely influence Course participants when they come to choose a church. Despite the dangers of Rome’s interfaith stance, Alpha never criticizes her. Since the Catholic Church is far larger than any other institution, Part Two of our main Unofficial Guide looks more closely at her remarkable relationship to Alpha and asks if she has any other shortcomings that course leaders ought to be aware of.

This first chapter starts by delicately explaining why Rome deserves to have space especially dedicated to her. Our text then seeks to give a feel for the closeness she enjoys with Alpha. (There are many glowing references to Rome – plus numerous quotes from prominent Catholics – throughout the Alpha talks and in related publications. For example, one issue of Alpha News devoted its largest article to the subject of Catholic-run Alpha Courses and, in the same issue, another page was given over to the view of two Catholic bishops.

The Guide reassures people that they will find the subsequent material interesting and rewarding and we encourage folk to keep reading because of the importance of the information supplies. We then introduce the primary topic of this chapter – that of Mary’s place in the Catholic faith.” (Alpha, the unofficial guide, page 23) After a thorough discussion of what’s so dangerous about Catholicism on page 39 ‘Alpha in Rome: “Given all these entrenched errors in Roman Catholicism, the book concludes that it is surely an indictment of the present version of Alpha that Rome is able to use it. Yes, Rome officially endorses Alpha and employs it to bring people into her system. Since Rome’s God is so different from the one described in Scripture, the Course must be somewhat compromised – to say the least – for Rome to be prepared to use it.

“The course material appeases Rome in many ways, e.g. through clever wording that allows Alpha’s teachings to be taken two ways:

“I did Alpha at Rostrevor and I was in a mixed group of Catholics and Protestants. The atmosphere was wonderful because there weren’t any divisions over doctrine…” (Alpha News).

“As more churches of all denominations take the Course… there will be a growing realization that the faith we have is common faith and [we] will ask ‘What are we divided about?” [Leader of the Rostrevor Alpha Course]. Hence the Catholic Alpha Office has affirmed that Catholics who have read the Alpha material have found it remarkably free from anything which we might object to”.

Despite such comments, many folk imagine that Rome’s preparedness to use Alpha is a sign that, underneath it all, she changing. But that does not explain how, several years after Rome first used Alpha, the man in charge of Rome’s doctrines (Cardinal Ratzinger) could still insist that Protestant churches are not even real churches because they deny transubstantiation. He wrote: “[Those ‘churches’] which have not preserved… [the RC belief in the] substance of the Eucharistic Mystery, are not churches.”

The Reformation page 47 “Alpha only brushes past the Reformation. It thus contributes to the general lack of awareness about this immensely significant period of Church history. (Bible-believing Christians did exist – albeit in small numbers – throughout the preceding Dark and Middle Ages.)

The Book Alpha, unofficial guide on p. 61 addresses the experience of Alpha as being gentle and enjoyable. The congeniality is tremendous which has a profound effect. “The whole thing was just so easy going, so much fun.. It was genuine fun” (Alpha News) “They all welcomed me and they were really nice to me. They wanted to talk to me, they were interested in me, they wanted to know about my life and what I’d done – that’s what really struck me” (Alpha News)”

Compare this with a true conversion experience when a person comes to grips with their sinful life and the excruciating realization that they participated in nailing our Savior, who is God in the flesh, to the cross. I would not call that a joyful and gentle experience. In my case I was in tears for two years in repentance for being such a damnable idiot allowing men to lie to me like they did and serving them. I didn’t feel deserving of mercy from God. I did not feel worthy of being in His presence at all for a long time. I was completely mortified of what my life had been all about. I certainly didn’t want to draw more attention to my own life. I wanted to draw attention to what Jesus Christ had done for me. I wanted to shout that from roof tops and get everyone’s attention to Jesus Christ who is the one who made redemption possible not Alpha or any system that man has put together to create shortcuts to heaven.

Shortcuts do not exist. Trying to get to heaven by bypassing the narrow way that Jesus Christ lamented is the only way that He will accept. It means becoming part of His Body and participating in the sacrificial life, experiencing God’s training which is painful because it is contrary to what we prefer. As Christians we learn to die to ourselves daily. Instead of having fun, we serve others which involves many hours of labor which is not rewarded. Again it doesn’t line up with a gentle, enjoyable experience.

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:21-27 kjv)

In Chapter 16 of Alpha unofficial guide, page 73: “I counted over 500 uses of the word ‘Alpha’ in their newsletter and only 8 mentions of Jesus or Christ (and that hurriedly in passing). Not one testimony in the paper showed signs of genuine repentance and true new birth… ‘World bishops speak of their need for Alpha’; ‘I don’t know how we would have survived without Alpha; ‘From illegal drugs to Alpha for Mark, [aged] 17. What spirit is it that exalts Alpha but not Jesus?” [Philip Foster].

This is a fair question. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to testify of Jesus (John 15:26) and to glorify Him (John 16:14). And if these publications offer the best testimonies that can be found, can we not legitimately be concerned about what the others must be like.

Chapter 28 addresses the “The Spirit of Truth” in other words The Holy Spirit. “Mr. Gumbel led a session entitled ‘How Can I Be Filled With The Spirit?’ … Mr. Gumbel asked us to put our hands out. He prayed: ‘Fill us with your Spirit’, then described what he saw – ‘The Spirit of God has come and is filling people all around this room. Some people are shaking. Some of you feel a great weight on your hands. Others, tears are rolling down your face and you are thinking ‘Why am I crying?’ This is the Spirit of God, don’t be embarrassed. Don’t resist the Spirit. Some of you feel waves coming over you. Waves and waves of liquid love…'”

Nicky’s words are, once again, significantly out of line with Scripture. This is odd, given that – in a much earlier talk – Nicky says that we must not be led by physical feelings and that our “relationship with God.. is based on facts and not on feelings, that’s very important.”

We have to examine what the reason may be for physically feeling a presence. God the Father is in heaven according to Matthew 23:9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. It is not God who is present during the infilling of the Spirit. God the Son “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33). When Nicky states: “Jesus is here… he’s right here”, he is not teaching correctly.

What about God, the Holy Spirit, can He have a local presence, a geographical presence, in a room? Looking at Lexical Aid which relates to the New Testament in the Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible ‘Pneuma’ #4151 describes the personage of the Holy Spirit. The word relate to pneo (4154), to breathe, blow, primarily denotes the wind. Breath; the spirit which, like the wind, is invisible, immaterial and powerful. The wind (John 3:8), breath (2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 11:11; 13:15); the immaterial, invisible part of man (Luke 8:55; 24:37, 39; Acts 7:59; 1 Corinthians 5:3-5; Hebrews 12:23; James 2:26; 1 Peter 3:19); man, the resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Peter 3:18) the element in man by which he perceives, reflects, feels, desires (Matthew 5:3; 26:41; Mark 2:8) the character (Luke 1:17, Romans 1:4); moral qualities and activities (Romans 8:15; 11:8; 2 Timothy 1:7); the Holy Spirit (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:18); the inward man, an expression used only of the believer (Romans 8:4-6; 10, 16; Hebrews 12:9). It can also mean unclean spirits, demons (Matthew 8:16; Luke 4:33; 1 Peter 3:19); angels (Hebrew 1:14); divine gifts for service. Pneuma stresses the character of the person of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:29; 12:36) Spirit is the element in man which gives him the ability to think of God. It is man’s vertical window, while psyche (5590) is man’s horizontal window making him conscious of his environment. The Holy Spirit being immaterial, there is no physical sensation involved.

There is a still small voice in our heart that moves us in one direction or another but that is the WORD itself coming from the Holy Spirit which is received by our spirit. It is the Holy Spirit witnessing to our spirit. Obviously these manifestations in Assemblies of God and Pentecostal churches that feels like a thick cloud hanging over the congregation when they speak in tongues is not a Holy Spirit substance because it is not like wind.

1 John 5:7 “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” When you study the Bible in depth, you will find that the Father is the Word, the Son is the Word and the Holy Spirit is the Word in other Scriptures. 3:10 “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:” Colossians 3:1-2 “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

The real problem is when pastors decide who is going to receive the Holy Spirit. They could have a rich man who supports the ministry and has an abominable life style receive the Holy Spirit because the pastor wishes to impress the donor. Notice there are qualifiers mentioned here when the Holy Ghost is given. First they have to have heard the WORD, and believed it, and God has to know their hearts and bear them witness to give them the Holy Ghost. Acts 15:7-10 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

This tells it all: Since God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are ONE and the Scripture states thus: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love. May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Whether we receive what Nicky Gumbel wants us to receive depends on our faith in God and if Nicky indeed has access to the Holy Spirit. It is most likely an imitation and the ecumenical spirit who is bringing the false bride together in the final hours, that is what all the new moves have been about.

BRIEFING IN REGARD TO ALPHA

Watchmen over gay issues expressed outrage and their Position Statement which read as follows:

OutRage calls on the creators of the Alpha Course to be honest about their homophobia in their introductory materials. In none of these do they mention their attitude to gays and lesbians, but in supplemental course material co-founder and author Nicky Gumbel refers to “homosexual offenders”. He also tells course attendees, as reported in ‘The Guardian’, that the bible “makes is clear” that gays and lesbians “need to be healed”, but advises Alpha participants not to use the word ‘healed’ because “they (homosexuals) hate it”. http://outrage.nabumedia.com/briefing.asp?ID=75

NON-THREATENING GOSPEL WHEN GOD ADMONISHES US TO FEAR HIM

Meant as a non-threatening introduction to the Gospel, this course, based on ex-atheist Nicky Gumbel’s books, is used by churches around the world.

The Alpha program calls for congregations to rethink their approach to evangelism. Instead of offering church-based community events or services that might expose nonbelievers to a congregation, Alpha instructs leaders on how to use an invite-your-friends model to stimulate interest in Christian doctrine.

”We don’t try to get people who are not interested,” Gumbel says. “The reason they have an interest is not because they have an interest suddenly in Christianity, but because of what happened to their friend on the previous course.”

The Alpha system at first blush seems overly simplistic. The acronym stands for: A—Anyone interested in finding out more about the Christian faith; L—Learning and Laughter; P—Pasta (eating together gives people the chance to know each other); H—Helping one another (small groups are used for discussion of issues raised during the lectures); A—Ask anything. No question is seen as too simple or too hostile.

However, Alpha, in the hands of skilled church leaders, has succeeded in many cases in turning faithful churchgoers from an inward focus on church work to an outward focus on evangelistic outreach through relationships, networking, and invitations to Alpha events. In Gumbel’s words, Alpha stimulates a ”virtuous circle” that spreads outward, allowing churches regularly to break into new networks of unchurched, un-evangelized people. Source: The Alpha-Brits Are Coming, Christianity Today, Feb. 9, 1998

http://www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/a09.htm

[Looking at – THE ALPHA COURSE by Tricia Tillin http://www.banner.org.uk/ms/ms2962.html is reproduced here in full- Michael]

PROOF OF THE PUDDING THAT ALPHA IS JUST ANOTHER TOOL TOWARD ECUMENISM WHICH IS THE NEW WORLD CHURCH AND LAODICEAN

To give you an idea how extensively the Alpha Course has become, the following comes from an Alpha website:

Alpha for Prisons | Alpha for Students | Alpha for Youth | Alpha for Catholics | Alpha for Forces | Alpha in different contexts | About Alpha International

Australia | Austria | Canada | Denmark | France | Germany | Hong Kong | Hungary | Ireland | Japan | Netherlands | New Zealand | Norway | Russia | Singapore | South Africa | South Korea | Sweden | Switzerland | UK | USA |

There are over 24,000 courses running all over the world.

Alpha uses modern marketing methods to promote teachings around the world.

Source: http://alphacourse.org

GOD’S MESSAGE TO THE LAODICEAN CHURCH

“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

“I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:14-22 kjv)

IX A. Alpha News*** by K. B. Napier, November 2002

http://www.christiandoctrine.net/news/alpha_news/alpha_nov_2002_web.htm

Today, I see next to nothing written against Alpha. Christians, as usual, are letting the whole thing go and many of them are rethinking their objections to the course. Maybe it is okay after all – see how many are saved! But are they? How can they be saved, when Alpha is not preaching the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Ecumenical

Alpha is ecumenical. At the moment it is running in 7,300 churches in the UK alone, and these belong to all kinds of denominations, including Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Salvation Army, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Free Church, United Reformed, etc. To my knowledge every one of these is Arminian! And the Roman Catholic contingent in particular is downright apostate and not even a part of the Christian church!

So, what worth the course if it embraces heretics like itself? Make no mistake, Arminianism is heresy.

Alpha also runs in 85 universities and 135 prisons. So, it is affecting potential leaders of the country and gives false hope to those whose lives have been failures in the past.

A Problem

So what if a church is Arminian! Surely it is better to belong to a church that contains errors than not to attend at all? I have heard that weird argument many times before! And it’s nonsense! God says that there is only one true Church and only one way to salvation. If one is not saved truly and does not attend a truly Christian church, then the whole thing is a sham and a deception!  Apart from the ‘anything goes’ mentality in these apostate churches, they are simply not Christian in their teaching, Gospel or theology.

Non-Threatening

Adherents of these churches are horrified at my stance. They think that I am hard and unloving because I insist on predestination. It is far too threatening and judgemental!

Alpha teachers pride themselves on the course being ‘non-threatening’. By this is meant, that Alpha does not present the true Gospel, but only a feel-good factor.

The teachers of Alpha would probably vomit in terror if they were under the very threatening preaching of Peter and friends on the day of Pentecost!! Peter just hit his listeners right between the eyes. No fooling about with funny stories or anecdotes. No long and outmoded ‘interviews’ on stage. No tea and buns. Just the facts. As a result thousands were saved in one day.

Alpha, on the other hand, draws crowds – not to the Gospel as it is given in scripture (and therefore not to the authentic Jesus Christ), but to the feel-good crowd who are giving away free cups of tea and lunches! Those drawn feel a part of a community. That is what it is all about!

Meanwhile another 16,000 churches in 130 countries are running Alpha, all feeling good about themselves and praising the power of Alpha to bring salvation! Not praising God or Christ, but Alpha.

May God help Alpha folk, for He is certainly not helping Alpha!

Remember the leopard? A leopard never changes his spots. Even if he wore a red raincoat, he would still rip your throat out and eat you for breakfast!

A false Gospel is a false Gospel. It cannot change its theology or its approach, or its end result – hell.

If all you want is to feel good, then by all means attend an Alpha course. But you will not enter heaven. Listen to the ‘threatening’ Gospel instead and live!

The true Gospel is a very real threat to all who are unsaved. Why? Because the Gospel is not about making us feel good, or about us gaining benefits. It is about God telling us we are worthy only of death and then hell. What is more threatening that that?

True, once a man is saved he will know the overwhelming love of God, but the Gospel itself is only ‘good news’ to those who are predestinated! True, the love of God can overcome a person even before salvation – but feeling good is never a criterion for salvation. The threat of hell is far more real than a cup of tea, a joke and a cake!

You will find, if you read scripture, that most of it is about the dire consequences of refusing Almighty God. So, how can Alpha dilute this and substitute with fun and games, a quick run through philosophical questions, and a weekend of false but occult spiritism? It can do it easily, because it is a false Gospel offered by false churches.

Romish Rubbish

On a number of occasions I have warned that anything approved by Rome must be suspect. Why? Because if it is approved by Rome it must be heretical and false, designed to lead people into its own arms and chains.

Rome sees Alpha as a means to ensnare unwary unsaved people into its net. Rome is happy to let Alpha do the work, so long as it gains in numbers.

The Growth Predicted

When the Toronto Blessing exploded I warned that it would soon ‘theologise’ its heresies. This it is doing, but the main link to it all is Alpha. I also predicted that Alpha would not rest with its ‘Gospel’ offering but would soon expand to cover every aspect of life with its heresies.

All of this is now happening, with dozens of different courses on different aspects if life. Thus, Alpha and its apostate thinking is building a web of falsity and adherents are well and truly caught!

All of this is taking the place of ‘straight’ scripture and it moves people far away from scripture-alone, toward Rome and the pit.

Strategies not Spirit

Alpha is all about strategies. Though talking a lot about the ‘Spirit’ (Who is reduced to an ‘it’ or ‘force’ by many who attend) Alpha is about marketing ploys. In its book on running courses, Holy Trinity (the source of the Toronto Blessing in the UK) says that one ought to run Alpha exactly as it is written, ‘because it works’.

It ‘works’ on a superficial level, on people’s emotions and minds. It ‘works’ because it is astounding marketing, and not because God is moving men and women by His Holy Spirit.

Instructions include best ways to advertise, slogans and use of jokes. There are even books and sessions on ‘practicalities of dynamic prayer meetings’. Read our article on prayer meetings and then read what Holy Trinity says, and see the difference!

There are seminars and books galore, all used to praise and promote Alpha. Now, look at scripture. Can you see anything there that even remotely resembles what Alpha is doing? Anything that praises itself before God?

Look at Alpha literature and you will find so much self-praise as to be sickening. As a ministry we very rarely publish letters or other correspondence that gives us praise. We do so, because praise is not due to us, but to God alone. Also, if we publish letters of praise regularly, it is a tool of marketing as well as a subtle means of ‘blowing our own trumpet’. We just will not do it…but Alpha is not slow to pat itself on the back at every opportunity.

Reading an Alpha newspaper is like reading the diary of Narcissus! Every so-called ‘success’ is attributed to Alpha, not to God. Does this not tell you what is really behind the whole charade?

MORI is the Measure?

In Alpha News No. 29, November 2002, the front page article was not in praise of God, but in praise of itself.

A MORI poll indicates that “8 million adults across the UK can now identify Alpha as a Christian course and recognise its logo.”

“Even Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was aware of the course”. Oh well, that is the height of success, eh?

Throughout the lead article no mention at all is made of God, or Christ, or the Gospel.

Every part of the article is designed to praise Alpha and its success.

The MORI poll also discovered that Alpha is growing year by year. I do not hype the fact that Alpha is growing like a cancer and will dictate the thinking of most Christians throughout the world before too long.

The danger in Alpha is the way it substitutes lies for the truth, in a friendly and pseudo-Biblical way. Those who have read my full Alpha critique will see what I mean, for the Alpha course contains dozens of heresies and Arminian errors. That makes Alpha the leading cult of our time, if not of all time.

Alpha is taking churches and individuals toward Rome, whether they know it or not. All roads will, one day soon, lead to Rome! It is the task of Alpha to make sure the road is smooth.

In its many testimonies, the Alpha News stories contain nothing but praise for Alpha. Where is God in all this? No doubt Alpha leaders would retort that they do attribute all the glory to God! But where is it in public statements? It is not there!

The new archbishop praises Alpha, of course – but is this of any value, given his liberalism? Hardly.

And what of Nicky Gumbel speaking at Willow Creek? This is reported proudly. This easily confirms Gumbel’s Arminianism! The pastor praised Gumbel, not God, for his work.

And in Lisburn, Ulster, Protestants and Catholics presented a joint Alpha course! A RC priest said that it was great, because both groups could deepen their faith together…that is, Catholic. Alpha is heresy!

IX B. Alpharisms*** by K. B. Napier, December 2004

http://www.christiandoctrine.net/news/alpherisms/alpherisms_december_2004_web.htm

The Alpha course is one of the biggest and latest spiritual confidence tricks in the world and many thousands succumb to its charms every week, all around the world. What makes it a scam? Its self-aggrandisement coupled with its Arminian presentation of the Gospel, and a charismatic source.

You cannot escape the fact that praise is given to Alpha and not to Christ, even within its own promotional literature. For so many weak Christians today the logo and brand of Alpha is greater than the Gospel it purports to preach!

Christ said “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” His commandments include the proper preaching of His Gospel. The apostle Paul defined this as the Gospel that he and the apostles preached – anything else was to be considered ‘anathema’. There can be no doubt whatever that Alpha does NOT preach this authentic Gospel, but a ‘gospel that is no gospel’. Therefore, it is anathema.

Its leaders and supporters have no excuse. The Gospel is tied inextricably to the truths of predestination and election. Alpha rides roughshod over them, denying them existence. The reason is obvious – if Alpha actually preached the genuine Gospel it would lose almost all of its adherents!

Why? Because those who adhere to it prefer the weak and godless teachings of Arminianism, which give Man the position of mini-gods. To remove its influence would be to remove their own influence! It would also remove their false belief systems.

It is no coincidence that Alpha came from a charismatic cess-pit. Satan wishes to build up a staggeringly vast empire of ‘almost Christians’, whose very presence and work tries to annul the true Gospel. I refer to charismaticism as a cess-pit because that is what it is. Charismaticism is a cess-pit, because it contains huge numbers of heresies and anti-Bible teachings and practices.

I say that leaders of Alpha are useless*, without spiritual discernment. No Godly status can be given to spreaders of spiritual muck! (*In scripture the word ‘useless’ is applied to anything that has no spiritual worth to offer).

It is also no coincidence that Alpha has a strong and growing Roman Catholic contingency, even though Christians throughout the ages have considered Catholicism to be the harlot of scripture. Having studied and taught The Revelation, I can only concur that the description in that book of the harlot really does appear to fit Rome, with its multi-layered strata of evil and error. Roman Catholicism is just as much a cult as Mormonism and JWism. Yet, Holy Trinity, Brompton, the managers and perpetrators of Alpha, could not care less. To them, any untruth is fine and any association is acceptable.

I repeat what I have said in my original assessment of Alpha, that all who teach or lead Alpha are not called by God to do so. I can say this without fear of contradiction, because God does not prompt any Christian to support or preach heresy!

It is also my contention that those who lead Alpha groups do so because of their own immense failure to be obedient servants of the Most High God. They do not obey, they believe heresy, and teach the same. There is no way I can cushion these facts.

(Am I being harsh? I do not think so. I have learned that talking softly in the face of continuous heresy does nothing. I can talk softly to those I meet face-to-face, and whose heart is repentant or at least willing. But hardened hearts require more of a jack-hammer than a weak smile! You will find this to be so in scripture itself).

Only those without a mandate to preach and teach will support and teach Alpha. It gives them some kind of status and meaning in life, because their own lives are woefully lacking in truth and real godly intent. That is, they have no calling from God, so their next best move is to associate with a successful movement. I do not care who this applies to – for it applies to all who lead Alpha.

Alpha pretends to be the catch-all course for everybody! God’s Gospel does not say that it catches-all in its net. God does not throw out an invitation to choose salvation. He chose whoever would be saved even before He made the world!

Logic tells me that if God chose everybody who will ever be saved, before He even made the first man and woman, then it stands to reason that no man or woman can ever choose to be saved.

They cannot alter God’s decision, for those who are saved in time have already been saved in eternity! Give away as many suppers as you wish – they will not make Christians. They will not save. Pray as ‘hard’ as you wish, you will not be saved if you are not elect. Learn an immense background to ‘Christianity’, but it will still leave you at square one, without a Saviour or hope. Election is the key.

But, Alpha arrogantly carries on regardless, preaching a lie and taking the praise for it. And the lie is so huge it drags in big names such as popes, archbishops, pop stars and sportsmen. They are all deluded, every one of them, and none of them have any idea of genuine Biblical theology.

Time and again my critics tell me that Alpha is a genuine tool of the Gospel, so they can tolerate its ‘errors’. This is not God’s way. He tells us that His word is perfect and that He does not cause men to commit or believe error. Rather, when we find error we must oppose it and demand repentance.

In this paper I give just a few brief notes about present Alpha news. I will leave praise for Alpha to all who are deluded and whose theology is dead. Do not speak to me of numbers or of people supposedly being saved ‘by Alpha’, because they are worthless facts based on a lie. If you don’t believe me, look at 2 Thessalonians, where we are told specifically and clearly that God has chosen whom He wishes to save. Deny it at your own peril!

Good News

One local vicar, after reading our material on Alpha, took down his Alpha posters and stopped the course. I thank God for his testimony and courage, especially for a man in a denomination at the forefront of promoting Alpha!

God’s Managers?

Alpha assumes that God is unable to operate without humanly-appointed managers! That is why there is a proliferation of conferences and seminars and centralised control.

It does not matter which sector of society you wish to aim at, Alpha folk have a ready-made answer, which involves leaders attending a conference, to be told how to run the courses.

Compare with the way the churches originally began. It is very clear in scripture that the apostles visited an area and preached. They then taught the new Christians doctrinal truths, which they expected to be obeyed.

After that, Paul and the others continued to visit as they could, and sent letters of advice, rebuke and help. But there were no conferences or seminars! Each local church grew as the Lord wished it to grow. Their growth in spirituality depended on their obedience, not on newly written ideas from a human point of view.

Paul did not establish marriage conferences, as Alpha does. He just taught the whole counsel of God and expected everyone to obey. Today, we are in a far better position for we have the whole counsel of God in writing. The answer to marriage problems is not to attend an Alpha course on marriage, but to read God’s word and obey everything in it.

Then there are the ‘tried and tested ways’ that Christians can copy, to help the poor and the excluded in society…again provided by an Alpha course! Scripture contains the principles for all these things – why go to charismaticised heretics for answers when God has already given them?

Or, what about building thriving and growing churches? Of course – Alpha has the answer! For goodness sake, friends, shake off the lethargy and sin! Turn from the glittering baubles offered by Holy Trinity, and turn back to God. His word has the answers, not Alpha. Stop wasting your time on Alpha and get back to reading God’s word for yourself. Don’t rely on the interpretations of Arminian teachers.

Then there are conferences to help Christians who wish to offer help to ex-offenders. Again, we must go back to scripture, where the principles of help are given. Very often, today, Christians help those in society whom God has Himself rejected.

Christians who help in this way heap coals of God’s anger upon their own heads. I even heard of one pastor who teaches that God wishes to offer love to all who are reprobate, even though scripture says the exact opposite.

It seems that charismatics specialise in helping reprobates, who stand condemned by God for sins which make them utterly wicked. To help men condemned by God is heresy and is itself wicked. Be careful whom you help, friends, for you might otherwise incur God’s wrath.

I have no problem with helping ex-offenders IF they turn from their crimes and repent. If they do not, Christians have no business helping them. Sadly, too many Christians help people who are sinful haters of God.

Our Sad, Theologically-Challenged, Sinful, Archbishop!

Dr Rowan Williams is said to be an academic whiz-kid. Why, then, does he have such sinful theological views? His academic brilliance is not found in his ‘spiritual’ pronouncements – his views on homosexuality are just one example of his ineptidude. Behind it are his theological errors.

Is he truly a born-again person? I cannot tell. Some of his words seem right – but that is easy for anyone who spends his time in an Anglican frock. His views, which are based on his theology, are very unsound, leading many into the jaws of deceit.

However, his view that Alpha is “an open door” is correct – an open door for cults and the occult to get into the hearts and minds of thousands of people; an opening for so many churchified errors.

The archbishop likened the Christian faith to a landscape, and Alpha as a guide through it. Once again, we have a supposedly Christian leader describe Christianity as something you can simply learn about. The implication is serious – that Alpha (or any other Arminian heresy), by chatting about a variety of things, can somehow produce Christians by ‘guiding’ them through topics of interest.

His argument speaks of people seeing ‘Christians’ acting out their faith ‘seriously’ and so wanting to be like them. In other words, choosing Christ rather than being elected to salvation before time began. Sadly, when he was Bishop of Monmouth, he encouraged all priests in his diocese to attend an Alpha course.

Rev. F.

Rev. F. has a responsible public position. Yet, he supports and promotes Alpha. When a lady questioned him about it, he got on his high horse and told her that he knew his stuff because he was studying for his PhD!! Oh dear, what a childish way to respond! This is the way men typically fob-off genuine critics.

In my own emails to him I spoke of his spiritual paucity – because that is what a person has when he or she supports Alpha, knowing the hard evidence from scripture that denounces it.

His non-responses were typical of those who have no argument, for he did not answer a single objection put to him. Instead, he quoted the thousands who disagreed with me (charismatics and pro-charismatics, of course), and even relies on Yonggi Cho, who most reformed Christians now recognise as a man on the wrong path.

To support this deluded view, Rev F. resorts to an old but well-used charismatic ploy. To quote: “Let us let God be the judge of Alpha and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.” Oh dear again! God has ALREADY judged Alpha in His word!! Read scripture and you will find evidence against Alpha. No problem.

In my own 34 page original criticism I listed a number of known heresies inherent in Alpha. We already have a  long and growing catalogue of unholy activities found in charismatic circles. So, why do we need to ‘wait’?? What’s extra to scripture?

Like so many, Rev. F. is deluded and cannot discern what is spiritually right or wrong. Instead of arguing his position from scripture, he quotes others and resorts to vagueness. Alpha is already judged and found wanting. Yet, this man, like many others, hangs on to deception. Why? Because he has nothing else in his life, nothing that is genuine.

The Constant Theme

There is nothing wrong with giving an outline of Christianity to anyone. But this goes wrong when those who call themselves Christians think that this in itself can persuade people to become Christians.

Yet, this is a constant theme in Alpha – the course is for those who want to know about Christianity. It is very evident that leaders think this is enough. There is no consciousness of God’s grace and His predestination of souls to salvation!

At a large gathering, where Nicky Gumbel presided, he did his usual interviews. And, guess what? He wanted them to tell everybody how Alpha had changed their lives! Alpha, not Christ. It does not matter if Christ was the second word to pass their lips – Alpha was the first.

One of them said that he now goes to prisons “talking about the Christian faith”. Really, that sums up what is going on. Are these thousands of people who are ‘converted’ only converted to Alpha? Or are they genuine Believers? No genuine speaker will talk about the ‘Christian faith’ – he will talk about Christ!

The ‘faith’ is being sold as a package of goodies – join this movement and you will get lots of friends and benefits, and do something interesting.

This theme is found throughout Alpha News…come to Alpha! Learn about Christianity at Alpha! Not ‘read about God in your Bible’, or ‘listen to genuine preaching and repent’!

BBC Report

Bearing in mind that the BBC is no more ‘Christian’ biased than your average porn king, Alpha was featured on Breakfast News and on radio.

Alpha was a ‘way to explore Christianity in an unthreatening way.’ What on earth does this mean? It means that people can hear what passes itself off as the Gospel, without going anywhere near a church.

Fine – but it also means not presenting the genuine article. In any genuine church, a man can ask questions freely. No need to go to a free supper. The supper is not a bad idea, though. In our own small church we finish every study with a tea and continue to chat about issues raised, or general topics. But, we do not tell people to “come to Manselton church to explore Christianity”. Nor do we attribute salvation to our teaching. Our teaching is from God’s word, not ourselves. That’s the difference.

The news item quoted a few who say Alpha is ‘branding’ Christianity, and that many who attend their course later drift away again. I expect this to happen, because attendance at a course does not make anyone a Christian. Some will stick around churches only because it seems better than clubbing or living a life of promiscuity (even though many suppers are accompanied by bands).

The report said that the archbishop had referred to the unsaved as the ‘uncommitted’. That one word tells us something big – that he thinks the only real difference between Christians and non-Christians, is that some are ‘committed’ to a church. This is unscriptural, for only a born-again person can be ‘committed’ to God.

The archbishop spoke of the ‘church’ taking risks and going away from the ‘old styles’. That is, giving ‘seekers’ what they want in a way they find comfortable. This is a far cry from the truth and from the presentation of the Gospel, which is through preaching. Suppers are fine. Chatting generally about life is fine. But, God determines that the Gospel – the word that saves – is presented via preaching.

Nicky Gumbel was quoted as saying that Alpha would “transform the Church.” This is ample proof of his view of his own course – it is Alpha that will build the Church, not Christ! Remember that this is consistent with charismatic ideology, which believes that Christ needs a bit of help to usher in His kingdom. We must do this and that, and then He will come again. That is found in Alpha.

I Think…

Mike Pilavachi, of Soul Survivor, said “I think the thing that the Lord is saying to all of us is…” Mark that man, for he knows nothing of what God is saying! He has no clear mandate and no true calling. He was speaking at a large Alpha supper in London in September, to launch the annual drive to get people interested. A man called  Pastor Agu Irukwu, was similarly unsure…”I am silly enough to believe that in my lifetime I will see revival in London.”

Sadly, his words are true for the first half – he is silly enough to believe it. We are heading for the last days, when there will be no genuine revival, only mass apostasy…and Alpha is already a part of that movement. I am deriding the man, but he, along with all who support Alpha, is deluded. He thinks the spiritual climate is changing. About this he is right, but not for the proper reasons. The spiritual climate began to change rapidly in the mid-1990’s when the vile Toronto Blessing – headed by Sandy Millar and Nicky Gumbel of Alpha! – struck the UK with the force of a tsunami, with the same kind of deathly results. Thousands of churches throughout the UK fell to its Satanic lies and have continued to die. Many churches that did not fall immediately will certainly fall when the next huge wave strikes, very soon. It is this change that the pastor is feeling, not a change brought by God.

It is weird – Alpha people say that it is only a course, but they load it with all the trappings of a mighty move of God, that preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In reality, it is a dupe, spreading the false gospel of Arminius.

Reading a report of the prayers offered by the team at this event, I am left uncomfortable. They do not make me feel the warmth of God, but the chill wind of deception. They all spoke of transformation, but not in the proper order. People spoke of the way God changed their lives, but it all sounded more like a sales’ pitch for a superior product.

Buy Jesus and He will change your life! For folk with problems and who have messed up their lives, this is wonderful…but where is repentance, talk of being eternally separated from God because of sin, and the reality of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? None of this seems to be present.

Alpha presents a God Who ‘changes lives’. Alpha’s latest book is about this – ‘The God Who Changes Lives’. It contains testimonies of people whose lives have been changed by
attending
an
Alpha course…they are free from drugs, misery, you name it and they have been freed from it. Don’t get me wrong – it is always wonderful when people turn their lives around. It is just that Alpha makes out that God is only there to give benefits, a great ‘choice’.

The Gospel is not about us getting this or that from God if we choose Him. It’s about God sending us to hell if we are not saved, but that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us. And those whom He has already chosen will be saved by the same Saviour. It’s nothing to do with what we get in return for choosing Christ – it’s about obedience to Almighty God, whether or not He gives us anything. We must bow the knee, regardless of what we receive! Can you see what I am getting at?

Alpha, then, makes me shiver as a new ice-age covers this land, with the puerile warmth of an Alpha supper. A warmth that is a delusion.

Telegraph Call

In August, The Daily Telegraph called upon the churches to ‘work harder to attract worshippers’. It paid tribute to Alpha, praising its formula of suppers with chat, and saying that it has ‘worked wonders’.

Scripture says something else about this kind of praise, for when the world praises the Church there must be something wrong.

We need not ‘work harder’ to attract people. It is not about how hard we work, but about how true we are to God. When we obey God and live out godly lives, people take notice. In Alpha, people are getting a load of glitter but no substance.

Many church leaders think Alpha is the key to church growth. After all, that is what Alpha itself is claiming! But this is untrue. Church growth is nothing to do with growth in numbers, but in obedience to God. Any numbers are added by God, not by Alpha, or any other human agency.

Even so, I would remind readers that the number of Christians at any one time is always a ‘remnant’…which carries with it the meaning of a ‘remnant of a remnant’. In any age there will be relatively few Christians.

Since the Toronto Blessing ruined so many churches, many true Christians left their local churches and began to meet together in very small numbers in their own homes. These are the true remnant, those who obey. They are the true growth.

Finding God?

An actor was researching Christianity for his role in a film. He attended an Alpha course and found the company stimulating, but he said he could not act as they did (reading the Bible and singing). His conclusion? “After the Alpha course – yea, I felt more that he was there.” (‘He’ meaning God).

That sounds truly inspiring doesn’t it? (!!) No mention of being saved, but, yea, God is somewhere out there. And that was found to be good enough to publish in Alpha News!

Sandy Millar

Vicar of the unHoly Trinity church, Brompton, is to retire in July 2005. His place will be taken by Nicky Gumbel. Sandy Millar is the man who helped to kick-off the TB in the UK, by barking like a dog and crawling about the floor in a stupor. Such is the man who led a ‘movement of God’!

Anyone worth his salt as a Christian recognises what happened to Millar as being of Satanic origin, but the world took it to be from God!!

Gumbel says of him: “under Sandy’s leadership (the church has been) on the cutting edge of change”. And he is spot-on, for since Millar and Gumbel introduced the UK to the TB, the cutting edge has lacerated the churches to pieces, leaving them bleeding and lifeless, with only demonic chatter and music to keep it going.

Finally

Alpha News is full of Alpha, not God. God is just an adjunct to a good supper! Alpha is all about courses, conferences, ‘Alpha advisers’, delegates, students… but no preachers, evangelists, or unsaved souls needing salvation. Yes, Alpha speaks of Jesus, and more or less about a sort-of ‘salvation’, but these are secondary to a supper and a chat!

Anyone who wants to put on an Alpha course must attend training sessions. The reason is that Alpha is a brand, and must be taught uniformly. Does this not smack of a cult, not of God? When God calls a man to ministry He equips that man personally with his own gifts and calling. Such a minister does not need training or special conferences.

This is the Biblical pattern, and this is why I strongly say that leaders of Alpha are uncalled and untaught by God. In modern terms, they are ‘spiritual wannabes’. Like a certain governor in the New Testament who was ‘almost but not quite’ a Christian, they are almost, but not quite, ministers. And the ‘not quite’ makes them not ministers at all.

All ministers of Arminianism are spiritual frauds who should never enter a pulpit. But, they tickle the ears of their hearers, so they stay. That is how our spirit as a nation is almost dead!

[See also Alpharisms by K. B. Napier, April 2005

http://www.christiandoctrine.net/news/alpherisms/alpherisms_april_2005_web.htm]

X. The Alpha Course Is It Bible Based Or Hell Inspired?***
b
y Rev. Paul Fitton, Minister of Bridlington extension of the Free Presbyterian Church in England & Wales, North Yorkshire.

http://www.regal-network.com/chm/alpha.htm

READING: 2 Timothy 2:24 – 4:5. The Alpha Course is sweeping through this nation, crossing the denominational divides, and spreading across the world with great rapidity. The question therefore arises concerning the Alpha Course – Is it Bible Based or Hell Inspired? Does its teaching rest solidly and squarely upon the authoritative rock of Holy Scripture or does it teach error in the name of Jesus?

From its inception in 1991 when approximately 600 people attended the four existing courses, it has steadily grown in popularity to the extent that in 1996 some 250,000 people attended an estimated 5,000 courses. The estimated figure for those attending this year is in the region of 500,000 persons.
The Alpha course is therefore being adopted by more and more churches as the years pass by. It knows no denominational boundaries — Anglicans, Methodist, Congregationalist, United Reformed, Elim Pentecostal, Salvation Army, Baptists, Presbyterian, Charismatic Fellowships, Evangelical Free Churches, and the Roman Catholic Church all run their Alpha Courses.
If the Alpha course continues to advance at the present rate its teaching will eventually permeate into the majority of churches, and influence the greater part of people who in this land claim to be Christian.
If the Alpha course is a faithful declaration of the Gospel of Christ and instructs people in sound Biblical doctrine then it can only be a mighty influence for good, but if it is not a faithful declaration of the Gospel, and if its teaching is not rooted in sound Biblical doctrine then it will be an awful influence for evil.
The question therefore arises concerning the Alpha Course — Is it Bible Based or Hell Inspired? Does its teaching rest solidly and squarely upon the authoritative rock of Holy Scripture or does it teach error in the name of Jesus?

1. REASONS WHY THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD EXAMINE THE ALPHA COURSE
There are many today who would question the right of any believer to question the teachings of another who professes to be a Christian. They think that all that matters is that a person teaches and does things in the name of Christ. Such a belief is wrong. In past weeks we have been examining the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, and we discovered that the false prophet preached, and prayed, and performed great signs and wonders in the name of Christ. He deceived the people in Christ’s name and the tragic result was that both the false prophet and those that heeded him were to be cast out of the presence of God on the Day of Judgment, Matthew 7:15-23.
It is the Christian’s DUTY to test the teaching of others even when they teach in the name of Christ. Isaiah 8:20 states, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak” (Notice the communication here. It refers to the thoughts of one being communicated to another.) “if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them”. The Christian is taught by God to test the utterances of another, to check the words of those who speak and teach to see if they are in accord with the Book – the Word of God.
It is the Christian’s DUTY to examine the teachings of those who purport to teach in the name of Christ, to examine the doctrine and teaching of others to see if they are founded and fixed upon the Scripture.
It is also the Duty of the Believer having examined the teaching of another in the light of Scripture to REJECT anything which is not sound in doctrine. Nowhere does the Bible teach that the Christian is to embrace error. Rather the Bible teaches that the Christian should RECOGNISE error and then REJECT it absolutely. 2 John 10: “If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.” Sound doctrine, Biblical doctrine, doctrine founded upon and substantiated by the Word of God is the only basis for fellowship. Any doctrine not found in the Bible must with those that teach it be rejected.
It must also be REPROVED. It is one thing to Recognise error, another to Reject it and yet another to Reprove it. Ephesians 5:18: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” Once more we are reminded that error, falsehood must not be received but rejected by the Child of God. Now notice the final words of the verse, “but rather reprove them.” Error, false doctrine, false practices, false teachers must not only be recognised by examining them in the light of God’s Word, and rejected by every true believer but the Christian must then reprove them, speak out against them, declare that they are wrong.
These then are the Scriptural reasons for examining the Alpha Course. The believer has a duty to test everything that is taught in the name of Christ by the Word of God. They have a duty to recognise that which is error, reject it as being error and reprove, that is speak out against that error.

2. THE ROOT FROM WHICH THE ALPHA COURSE DERIVED
Whenever a movement or doctrine is examined it is always important to trace it back to its roots. The Lord Jesus Christ declared in Matthew 7:18, “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” Similarly we can say that if a stream is contaminated at its source then the pollutant will be in the river and all who come into contact with that river run the risk of being contaminated. It is therefore essential that we trace the Alpha course as far back as possible.
The course is formally attributed to Nicky Gumbel, curate of Holy Trinity, Brompton. Immediately this information should cause us great concern. Holy Trinity, Brompton is an Anglican Church. The Anglican Church as a whole has tolerated error for a very long time. Long before the ordination of women became an issue there were very serious doctrinal and moral issues that the Anglican Church never addressed and certainly never dealt with in the light of scripture.

The Anglican Church has embraced the error of the mass (in many of its parishes) even though one of the thirty-nine articles denounces it as a “blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit”. It has permitted ungodly men, men who have no knowledge or experience of the rebirth to minister. It has defended homosexuals among the clergy despite the Bible’s condemnation of such practices. It has tolerated men who have denied the Virgin birth, the resurrection and ascension of Christ. We say this because if Nicky Gumbel was the spiritual man he and others claim him to be he would not be a curate in the Church of England. God calls men out of apostasy not into it.
Let us though concentrate on Holy Trinity, Brompton. It was there in the early nineties that the “Toronto Blessing” first showed its ugly and ungodly head in Britain. In fact Nicky Gumbel was one of the leading lights in the propagating of this evil in this land. Now I have not the time to deal with the Toronto Blessing at this time, but I can assure you that it will be dealt with on another occasion in the will of God, and shown to be the evil that it is. Suffice to say the Toronto Blessing is NOT the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now the main text behind the Alpha course is the book “Questions of Life” which is attributed to Nicky Gumbel. The book carries his copyright. The man, therefore, whose teaching lies at the heart of the Alpha course not only belongs to a denomination which has tolerated error, but to a local congregation of that denomination which was responsible for the inception into this country of the Toronto Blessing, which is another great evil and error. Nicky Gumbel may be a very intelligent man, that we do not dispute, but he is obviously a man who can embrace doctrinal error.
Now we cannot condemn the Alpha course simply because the man behind it attends a particular Church. Nevertheless the fact that he can tolerate doctrinal error in the Church of England, and not merely embrace the doctrinal errors of the Toronto Blessing but actually support and propagate its errors should cause us concern and alarm. Everything he holds to cannot be substantiated by the Word of God. Therefore we must carefully consider what is taught in the Alpha course because on the whole it is the teaching of Nicky Gumbel.

3. OUR RESERVATIONS CONCERNING THE ALPHA COURSE
Now before we begin to look at our reservations, the basic problems we find with the doctrines taught in this course, let me point out that this book is very subtle. It cloaks serious doctrinal errors in truth. In other words a lot of what you read in this book is acceptable but hidden behind that truth is the poison of false doctrine. It is a bit like a cake made out of the very best ingredients that the cook can buy. It looks good, it smells good, it even tastes good, but hidden in the cake is a deadly poison. A poison that would pass unnoticed unless you carefully analysed the cake before eating. Tell me, how much of that cake would you dare consume?
If the text behind the Alpha course contains the poison of false doctrine which it undoubtedly does, how much should the believer tolerate? The answer is none. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” As a little yeast permeates through the whole loaf so a little false doctrine spreads and corrupts the whole.


I was greatly disturbed by the reports in the Alpha News concerning the acceptance of the Alpha course by the Roman Catholic Church. Now I say this because I believe it will bring home the reservations we have about this course. The Catholic Church despite what many would have us believe is not a Christian Church. The Bible teaches that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8, 9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works lest any man should boast”. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that any one who believes that doctrine is “Anathema”; they are cursed. The Council of Trent, session VI, Canon 10: “If any one says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake; or that it is by that trust alone by which we are justified: Let him be accursed.”
Rome opposes and curses those that hold to the Biblical doctrine of justifying faith, because her religion is based upon works. What an individual can do, and what the Church can do is what Rome bases her doctrine upon. Acceptance into the Catholic Church is not upon the grounds of faith in Christ, but that a person accepts the teaching and practices of the Church. The Alpha News, July to October issue, page 1, in its report upon the Alpha conference for Roman Catholics quotes Bishop Ambrose Griffiths, Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle: “It is not a complete exposition of Catholic doctrine. No introductory course could possibly do that. But it doesn’t contain anything that is contrary to Catholic doctrine.”
Is not that amazing? The teaching of the Bible as regards salvation is totally contrary to the teaching of the Church of Rome. But the Bishop states, and it is reported in the Alpha News, the newsletter printed by Holy Trinity Brompton, that the Alpha course is not contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. It is not contrary to Rome’s teaching that salvation is by works and not by faith.


This past week I was talking to Doug in the Bethany book shop here in Bridlington. The conversation came around to the Alpha course and he informed me that he employed it, and I quote his words, “to get people saved”. That is why he uses the course, and I am sure that is why many others use the course, simply “to get people saved”. On the cover of the book we have the words, “A practical introduction to the Christian Faith”. Gumbel himself says in the preface on page 9, that the book “is based on “Alpha”, a course run at Holy Trinity Brompton for non-churchgoers, those seeking to find out more about Christianity, and those who have recently come to faith in Jesus Christ.” It appears to be that the book, the Alpha course is to be employed in bringing those who know nothing of Christianity to a knowledge of the Gospel.
Now before I go any further, do you not think it strange that a course intended to introduce people to the Christian Faith spends so little time dealing with the fundamental issues of the Gospel? In fact, of the fifteen chapters only four, (and I am being generous by including the chapter on assurance of salvation) relate to the necessity of salvation. Here is a course, intended to be used to teach non-churchgoers, those who know little or nothing of Christ and the Gospel, and only three, at best four of fifteen studies deal with salvation.

Why is this? Well as we shall see in a moment or two the course has a hidden agenda. It has a concealed objective. It seeks to open the mind and heart of those that follow it to things which have no grounding in the Word of God. It promotes error and heresy upon the back of apparent truth.
Let’s continue to think of the Gospel for a moment. What Gumbel says of the person and work of Christ on the whole is acceptable. He is shallow in his presentation of truth, but on the whole it is there. The same applies to his dealing with sin. He speaks of it in terms which don’t have great depth but on the whole we will not object too strongly. Yet even in this section, where much of what he teaches is correct there is a remarkable absence of teaching concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion. I say a remarkable absence because he goes to great extremes in his teaching regarding the Holy Spirit in the rest of the chapters.

The Bible teaches that salvation is in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scripture teaches that in order to be saved we must place our trust in Christ. We must believe that He is the Son of God the only Saviour, and that He died in our place at the cross, bearing our sin and penalty. However this act of faith is not a mere assent of the mind to these truths. It is not a mere consenting of the human will to accept the doctrine of Christ, but rather, it is the result of the Holy Spirit working in the heart and soul of individuals, regenerating them, changing them by His power that they may receive Christ as He is offered to them in the Gospel. John 1:12-13 “But as many as received Him (Christ) to them gave He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, NOT of blood, NOR of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The Scripture teaches that those that receive Christ, those that believe in His name, do so not because of an act of human volition, but because God the Holy Spirit has changed them from within. He has convinced and convicted them of their sins and so changed them that they repent and believe upon Christ.

This teaching is absent in the Alpha course. Indeed it appears to be what we could call “Conveyor belt” Christianity, whereby after being informed of the facts that make up the Gospel, a prayer of acceptance of Christ is recited and the person then is a Christian. Salvation here is more a conforming to what a Christian ought to be, than a change wrought by the Holy Ghost in the heart of a sinner. This is undoubtedly the case. In the first Alpha video two testimonies are given. They refer to a relationship with God and a prayer life. That’s good, but sincere adherents of other religions claim to have a relationship with God and pray. They refer to the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, reading the Bible, attending Church, but there is a notable absence of terms used to describe true genuine conversion. For instance there is no speaking of conviction of sin which leads to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. No mention of assurance of salvation through Christ’s death. Indeed there is a total absence in their testimony of what Christ has done for them. Even when Gumbel tried to ascertain the reason for their changes in attitude and lifestyle the response was “just the relationship that I’ve developed with God, simple as that.”
There is conversion here, but it is conversion to a Christian lifestyle rather than a conversion to Christ. This is repeated time and time again.
Now whilst I do not doubt that there have been some who have genuinely been converted, I also must point out that many have been led into a false profession. Bear in mind the fact that the original course and book were intended to redress the problem of declining numbers in the church. Bear in mind also that churches which have struggled for years to get people into their church see the course as a quick way to filling the church with people. It is being taken on by more and more churches which see it as a way to quickly correct their failures. These false professors are simply “Proselytes of Christianity”. They consent to the teaching that is given about Christ and seek to live as a Christian, but it results from an act of their own volition. They make a conscious decision to live as a Christian, believing the tenets of Christianity and doing basic Christian activities, but sadly their heart has never been changed by the Holy Spirit. Gumbel shows us that at the end of the day he holds to this view.

On page 221, he refers to the vastness of the universal Christian Church, informing us that the Encyclopedia Britannica states that the Church has some 1.7 billion adherents world-wide. He confuses Church membership with belonging to Christ. Sadly, many, many of this vast number have never experienced the rebirth, they are not in a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Such thinking as expressed by Gumbel and propagated by the Alpha course is not Scripturally sound. It is Arminian in doctrine; humanistic in philosophy. There is a lack of understanding with respect to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

This is backed up by Gumbel himself. On page 120 of “Telling Others” he writes, “At the end of the course I send out questionnaires… if there is a change I ask when that change occurred. For many the decisive moment is the Saturday evening of the week-end.” This of course is on the “Come Holy Spirit” weekend. It is the time when Nicky Gumbel invites the Holy Spirit to come and the participants are filled with the Spirit.
The DECISIVE MOMENT is when the Holy Spirit comes rather than the momentous occasion when they were supposedly converted. If nothing else shows the fallacy of the Alpha Course this certainly does. The time when, as the Bible teaches, the Spirit of God enters the soul and works the miracle of regeneration, the soul dead in sin being made alive, the soul in darkness having the light of Christ lit within it is not viewed as the decisive moment. There is something fundamentally wrong here.
Unfortunately time does not permit to deal with all the errors of this book, but suffice to say, Christians need to be on their guard. Gumbel intertwines many falsehoods with truth as the course is followed. He gives credence to Westcott and Hort, two heretics responsible for the production of the text upon which the modern perversions of scripture are based. He advocates Ecumenical unity at the expense of fundamental Gospel truths. He teaches that natural gifts are greatly enhanced when they are taken on by the Holy Spirit which is why many rock musicians have turned their natural ability into what is now termed “Rock Gospel”. These are aspects which we could spend considerable time examining, but there is an issue at the heart of the Alpha course that demands our attention.

The main objection to this course is its teaching regarding the Holy Spirit. This is especially in connection with His work and gifts. This should come as no great surprise for Gumbel is extremely Charismatic in his teaching. His work is therefore filled with charismatic teaching and although the book was prepared prior to the phenomenon known as the Toronto Blessing it is undoubtedly pro-Toronto Blessing.
Throughout the book there are references to John Wimber. Undoubtedly Wimberism has had its influence on Nicky Gumbel. On tape five of the video set Nicky Gumbel dates his call to Evangelism to the 1982 incident in which he received prayer from John Wimber. He relates part of that incident on page 201 of “Questions of Life“. The video, however, gives a little more information. It tells us that on the occasion in question, he experienced such supernatural power that he had to call out for it to stop. It was at that time that Wimber gave a “Word of knowledge” that Gumbel had been given a gift of telling others. He can trace his ministry of telling others to that particular time. Isn’t that interesting? Time does not permit me to fully deal with John Wimber, but let me say this. Wimber says that in 1977 God clearly spoke to him; that God gave him a revelation, a direct communication. God said to him, “I’ve seen your ministry, now I am going to show you mine. Preach forgiveness of sins, and the healing of the body, preach the Kingdom.” Note that he is not being told to preach Christ, or the blood, or the cross or the Gospel, or the book. He is being told to preach the Kingdom. This doctrine has been described in a variety of ways, Restorationism, or Dominion Theology to name a few. It is a unique and new form of Pentecostalism and it is the basis of the Toronto Blessing. In fact it has been said that as to its theology and practice the Toronto Blessing is “Wimberism”. Gumbel shows aspects of this teaching in chapter thirteen. He refers to the Kingdom, the preaching of the Kingdom. He speaks of the Kingdom in the same terms as Wimber, the healing of the sick, signs and wonders. He is paving the way for people to experience the same phenomena as those in the Toronto Blessing.
Now in the Toronto Blessing the New Age philosophy that “Experience leads to explanation” is the order of the day. Indeed a close examination of the Toronto Blessing will reveal that it is a replica of New Age philosophy and practice in the guise of Christianity.
We are constantly told that the Church is moving into the realm of the supernatural. This is nothing but New Age teaching dressed up. They believe humanity is moving into a higher humanity. That there is a quantum leap.
In the Toronto Blessing there is the “Experience of the Holy Spirit”; in the New Age it is called “Tuning in to the Divine Consciousness.”
In the Toronto Blessing there is the “Word of Knowledge” and revelations from the Spirit realm. In the New Age there is what is termed “Channelling from the Spirit World”.


In the Toronto Blessing there is a “Transmission of anointing” through the close proximity to a teacher, or the touch upon the forehead. In the New Age there is the transmission into Higher Consciousness through the close proximity of a Guru, or Shakti pat. Shakti pat comes from Hinduism, shakti meaning power. Power transmitted by simply a touch.

I could go on but that will suffice for the present to show the connection between the New Age philosophy and practice and the Toronto Blessing. Similarly, the thrust of the Alpha course is towards the experiential and not the written Word of God. Commenting on the weekend away, Gumbel says of those from a New Age background, “They are on more familiar territory in experiencing the Holy Spirit”. “Telling others”, page 19. How is this? Surely Christianity should be a million miles away from occultism. Yet they are at home. There is a similarity in what they believed and held to in the New Age movement, and what they come across in the teaching and experience regarding the Holy Spirit in that weekend away.
It is obvious from what we said earlier, that there are many who arrive at the part of the course which deals with the work of the Holy Spirit who know nothing of genuine conversion. There are others and perhaps they are young converts, and still others who, because of a lack of teaching in their particular church, have joined the course. The Alpha course then takes them through the “Experience” of receiving the Holy Spirit. Now during this time, on the Saturday evening, Gumbel prays for the Holy Spirit to come upon them.
Now how do they know that they have received the Holy Spirit? Well one of the evidences is that they speak in tongues. I say one because Gumbel does not fall into the trap of many charismatics. He has learned by their mistakes and so he does inform us that not every Christian will speak in tongues. At this point let me do something which Gumbel tells Christians to do but which he himself and those on the course fail to do — test the spirits. 1 John 4:1 “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The Bible teaches us to try, or test the spirits, to see if they are of God. And the reason given is that there are false prophets in the world. How do we try the spirits? By the Book. By the Word of God. “If they speak not according to this Word it is because there is no light in them.” If it is the Spirit of God coming upon them then their experience must measure up to what the Bible teaches. If it does not, then the phenomenon, in this case tongues, and the experience – receiving the Spirit must be rejected. If the phenomenon associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit does not measure up to the standard of God’s Word then it is not the Holy Spirit of God, but another spirit that comes upon them.

Gumbel in “Questions of Life”, chapter 9, pages 140-144, makes the following statements regarding what tongues are and the benefits they bring:
He states that speaking in tongues “is a form of prayer” and he quotes 1 Corinthians 14:2 as his proof. Let us read the verse, “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God.” That is where the learned Mr Gumbel ends the verse and states that because it is speaking to God it is prayer. That is not what the apostle is teaching. Paul does not say speaking in tongues is prayer. Look at the rest of the verse, “For no man understandeth him”. He is saying that if a person speaks in another language, other than the one that they understand, in the gathering of God’s people then only God knows what they are saying. Paul backs up this statement by saying, “Howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” Note the connecting word in the next verse, “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort”. Paul says no man but God knows what a person speaking in tongues is saying. His words are a mystery, they are of no value to the church. This is not a commendation for tongues. It is not saying that tongues are for prayer, rather Paul is saying they are of no value if employed in this manner. It is not prayer. In verse 14, Gumbel expresses that Paul speaks of prayer in relation to tongues. So he does, “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful”. Has Mr Gumbel proved his point? I am afraid not. You must read the next verse where Paul says “What is it then, I will pray with the spirit, and pray with the understanding also …” Paul continues to apply the same argument to worship, to praise. What is his argument? It is this – If you pray in tongues your understanding is empty, it is unfruitful, but that is not the way you should pray, that is not the way in which you should worship. Your understanding, your mind should be active. This is a terrible aspect of the Charismatic and Toronto style meetings. People are told to empty their minds but God never tells Christians to empty their mind. They must be alert, aware, conscious of what they are doing.

Gumbel then gives us three areas where tongues can help the Christian:
1. In Praise and Worship
2. Praying under Pressure
3. Praying for other People


Isn’t that strange? The two things Paul has just spoken of here, praise and praying, are the uses of tongues which he gives. Paul doesn’t substantiate what Gumbel is teaching. In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite to what Gumbel is saying. But I find it even more extraordinary when he omits to mention the Scriptural purpose for the gift of tongues. Acts 2:4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” They were speaking in tongues. The Holy Ghost came upon them and they began to speak with other tongues. There was no learning to speak. No going over gibberish until it came. There and then they were given the gift of tongues. Does it not surprise you to discover that the same Holy Spirit according to Gumbel doesn’t give a perfect gift? In the training manual of the Alpha course, relating to the giving of the gift of tongues (page 17 section g) “Encourage the person to start to speak in another language…” On page 147 of “Questions of Life” he not only teaches that we should “Ask God to fill you with the Spirit and give you the gift of tongues”, but in point six he states, “Persevere. Languages take time to develop. Most of us start with a very limited vocabulary. Gradually it develops. Tongues is like that. It takes time to develop the gift. Don’t give up.” Does the same Spirit give a perfect gift on the day of Pentecost and an imperfect one today? We are examining Acts 2:4. They began to speak in tongues – Why? Was it the sign that they had received the promise of the Father? Was it to praise or pray to God? No! Verses 5 and 6 give the purpose. They inform us that there were men in Jerusalem from all parts of the earth and the Apostles preached to them in their own language. The gift of tongues was given that they might preach the Gospel.
Gumbel in his teaching upon the Holy Spirit never mentions this. His doctrine is not in accord with the Bible. The experience of many who attend this course is not in accordance with the Word of God. The tongues manifested at the “Come Holy Spirit Weekend” are not the same either in character or purpose as the tongues in the Scripture. “They speak not according to this Word”. Now it follows that if the evidence of the experience is unsound, the experience itself must also be unsound. Whatever comes upon them during that weekend, we can be sure that it is not the Spirit of God.

Time does not permit for the examination of other phenomena associated with this occurrence. Gumbel teaches that there are those who by the same spirit receive the gift of healing, words of knowledge, visions, dreams, and prophecies. He opens the minds of those who participate in the course to extra-Biblical revelations, to signs and wonders. The mind of all who are taught these errors is open to the thought that a revelation from God, a word of knowledge from the Spirit, a word given by prophecy, are all on a par with the Word of God. If this is accepted “Anything” can be taught in the name of Christ. Absolutely anything can be taught and it follows that if it is as they claim from the Spirit of God then it must be believed. Thus what men say is taken on board as the truth of God without any scriptural ground.

There is a great danger here. The Alpha course is being used to prime the pump. To condition the thinking of church people to accept the teachings and phenomena which we associate with the Toronto blessing. Phenomena which have no anchorage in the Scripture. Doctrines which otherwise would be rejected out of hand. These phenomena are unbiblical. There is no ground in Scripture upon which to anchor them. The Alpha course in Philosophy is New Age; it relies heavily upon experience. In Practice it leads to experiences that are rooted in the occult. If they are calling down the spirit and they are possessed by that spirit, and that spirit is not the Spirit of God then they have opened their minds to other spirits, to evil spirits. It promotes humanism, Ecumenism, and Charismaticism. There is evil being done in the name of Christ, wickedness being practised and taught in the name of the Lord. The Alpha course is only conditioning people to accept these errors, to tolerate and to take on these evils.
The Alpha course is not Bible-based; it does not rest firmly upon the Book. It leads people away from truth and into error therefore it is Hell inspired. As Christians we must stand apart from that which is the vehicle for propagating false doctrine and false experience. The Christian is told to reject error, to withdraw from those who teach and practise falsehood. God says, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate… and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you”. On the basis of God’s Word I say we must reject the Alpha course and all that is associated with it.
May God help us therefore to fulfill our duty and responsibility to reject this error and to speak out boldly against it. Amen & Amen.

XI. Book Exposes the Illuminati “Alpha Course by Nancy Thomson, December 30, 2009

http://www.benabraham.com/html/book_exposes_the_illuminati__a.html

A book available online, “The Hidden Secrets of the Alpha Course* by New Zealander John D. Christian exposes the insidious Illuminati Alpha Course as occult indoctrination posing as an introduction to Christianity.


“Alpha” is being used in over 150 countries encompassing 49 different languages. It has infiltrated the homes, schools, universities, business, hospitals, prisons, churches and even the military. *344 pages, pdf- Michael

Since London is known to be the headquarters of the occult, it is not surprising that the Alpha originated there.  In 1970 an English cleric, Charles Marnham, devised a four- week series of lessons for non-churchgoers and new Christians. In 1981, Nicky Gumbel, a former barrister of Holy Trinity Brompton, extended the course to 8 weeks.  This is how the fastest growing ecumenical evangelization program in world history began.
Alpha presents itself as a “new beginning” and its course structure became a tool for church growth and indoctrination. Videos and tapes, specially produced by the speakers are based on the book titled Questions of Life. This book sets out the structure and content of Alpha.
Group sessions included weekly suppers and discussions, culminating in a “Holy Spirit Weekend Away.” Hailed as a means to bring people to a personal salvation, the Alpha course does this without preaching the Gospel.
The Holy Spirit Weekend Away, which is mandatory, is actually a thinly disguised devil worship experience. Alpha’s Questions of Life book, the basis of the whole course, is the structure used to pervert the Gospel.  In addition to the “Holy Spirit Weekend,” the Alpha Course uses mind-control encapsulated and propaganda to sway the innocents.


EXPLOSIVE GROWTH

In just over 20 years, the Alpha system is growing like wildfire in Protestant and Catholic churches.  Marriage courses, Alpha in the Workplace, and 80 percent of all prisons and universities in the UK now run Alpha. There were 8,142 Alpha courses running in over 7,300 all denomination churches in the UK alone. The number of churches in the U.S. using Alpha is growing faster than any other country.
Growth is a very important factor in this system.  It’s not surprising therefore that our mega-churches such as Rick Warren’s PURPOSE-DRIVEN Saddleback Church are involved. The true purpose behind the PURPOSE DRIVEN CHURCH AND LIFE is the establishment of a final One World Religion.  Key advisers from all over America gathered in London in 2003 to report on their plans to implement Alpha into the U.S. churches.
The congregation and friends of Holy Trinity Brompton financed the Alpha development, and resource courses were sold at a profit.  Since the goal was to involve the whole world in their project, Alpha International was founded in 2001.  Capitol investment became worldwide, and was headed by a Jewish banker, Ken Costa, Chairman of Alpha Partners.
This banker just happened to be Vice Chairman of UBS -Warburg, London. UBS stands for Union Bank of Switzerland-Warburg. The banking firm of Walburg has long been linked to the giant international Marxist Rothschild banking conglomerate based in the City of London. Isn’t it strange that Warburg would be running a Christian organization?


ILLUMINATI BANKERS

The book contains extensive information about the Illuminati bankers and their Satanic predilections.
Our Federal Reserve System had as its prime mover the late Mr Paul Warburg whose brother was involved with the international banking house of Kuhn, Loeb that included Jacob Schiff. The Schiff’s are the oldest contemporary Jewish family dating back to 1370.  These men, besides implementing our Federal Reserve System, helped found the Bank of International Settlements in Switzerland that is scheduled to become the World Bank. The huge Rockefeller Manhattan Bank united with the Chase Bank controlled by Kuhn, Loeb. Then the Rothschild/Warburg took over control of this bank.
Many are under the false impression that banking conglomerates J.P. Morgan and Rockefeller are American.  They are not. Rockefellers owned a small portion of their bank and J.P. Morgan was founded in London. “British” control of our banking system dates back to the original founding of the Virginia Company.
Books authored by the Warburgs contain communist propaganda. James Warburg was a member of Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust, masterminded Eisenhower’s presidential campaign, and was chief financier of the United World Federalist World Government movement.
Communism is the end product of apostate Christendom-both Catholic and Protestant. All “New Age” Bibles were produced by 2 English professors who were Communists and Christian Socialists.
Bibles promoted by the Alpha library are these: The Bible for Today, The Contemporary English Version and the NIV. These are actually Communist versions based on corrupt text. Fabian Socialism is linked to a “Christian Socialist” organization. The “war on terrorism” is a classic British Fabian Socialist strategy. Inflict a series of “terrorist attacks” against a targeted population, use reaction from the attacks to justify the solution–i.e. to implement a police state over the region. Fabians acknowledge the principal tenet of Marxism, the abolition of private property.


On August 15th 1995, Russia and Boeing signed a contract to develop the first module of the new Alpha International Space Station. Massive sums of money by the U.S., Russia and the European Space Agency have been spent. Scheduled for completion in 2006, we are told the International Station is just “a scientific space laboratory.”
Alpha MIRCAL lasers were being developed at White Sands Missile Base in 1985.  Some speculate that the Alpha MIRCAL lasers could be used for mind control purposes in connection with the International Space Station.

Link to the index of the Illuminati Book: http://www.benabraham.com/html/illuminati_-_666.html

[Also see http://tor.id.au/article.php/20100103020719150]

XII. HIDDEN SECRETS OF THE ALPHA COURSE
November 15, 2007, by lauchenauermartin

https://secure.gn.apc.org/members/www.bilderberg.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=6717&sid=92a7a069297bbdd4ae81ac3fa63510bb

In little more than 20 years the Alpha course has quickly become the most popular ecumenical, evangelistic system in world history. Growing like wildfire, Alpha now operates in over 150 countries and 49 languages. Directed from Holy Trinity Brompton in London, and funded by international bankers, it is running in Protestant and Catholic churches alike, homes, schools, universities, businesses, hospitals, prisons and even in the military. The perpetrators of the course, ultimately, want ‘EVERYONE’ in the world to follow Alpha.
But, is the Alpha course really Christian? Is it what it claims to be? – or is it a clever deception and tool being used by a small group of powerful, evil, City of London, Masonic, propaganda elitists – to rule the world – and in the diabolically wicked process – destroy the Christian Church? Are you personally at risk from this amazing phenomenon?
Is the Alpha course full of Gnostic witchcraft and paganism? Why is the Alpha course emblem a small boy carrying a giant red ‘Question Mark’? What has the Alpha course to do with the Alpha International Space Station? Why is the Alpha course secretly interlocked with the Purpose-Driven Church? Have devious modern bible editors subtly changed their text to accommodate for Alpha?
These vitally important questions, and many others besides, are uncompromisingly answered in this timely, unique book [see XI. above]: http://www.despatch.cth.com.au/Books_V/HiddenSecretsAlpha.htm:

This book is a wonderful expose of all the links & horrors associated with “ALPHA”. We do wish to add our general Despatch disclaimer to the book, which has been discussed and agreed upon with author regarding a couple of items. He has made it freely available in PDF and Office XP formats.
Copyright does exist to protect the author against any mishandling of his work.
(Because it may be too difficult for you to download and burn to your own CD, it is offered from Despatch as a CDROM for $5 within Australia only. Address for this is on the front of our home page. It can be printed out from an Office Works Shop in your area….  It has been priced at approx. $39.95 to be printed and bound)
Otherwise download it from here.    
PDF FORMAT  http://www.despatch.cth.com.au/Books_V/HiddenSecretsoftheAlphaCourse.pdf
OFFICE XP  FORMAT [click on the link]

(This has been re-edited on 26th. October, 2006, but not the pdf format as yet)
ACCESS THESE CHANGES IN A PDF FORMAT ONLY

[See THE DREADED ALPHA COURSE Volume 10:1 http://www.despatch.cth.com.au/Despatch/Vol10_1_Alpha.htm]

XIII. THE ALPHA COURSE/ EVANGELISTIC BIBLE STUDIES

http://www.wayoflife.org/database/alphacourse.html

Republished September 15, 2003 (Updated June 13, 2002; first published February 10, 1998) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org)

Many have asked me about Alpha, and I offer the following warnings.
ALPHA’S DOCTRINAL WEAKNESS IS EVIDENT IN ITS WIDE ECUMENICAL APPEAL
Alpha has achieved wide ecumenical appeal. Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton stated the ecumenical philosophy of the HTB in these words: “We need to unite … there has been some comment which is not helpful to unity. Let us drop that and get on. It is wonderful that the movement of the Spirit will always bring churches together. He is doing that right across the denominations and within the traditions … we are seeing Roman Catholics coming now … Nobody is suspicious of anybody else … People are no longer ‘labelling’ themselves or others. I long for the day when we drop all these labels and just regard ourselves as Christians with a commission from Jesus Christ” (Renewal, May 1995, p. 16).

Alpha has even been accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. In the February 1997 issue of Alpha News, the lead article was titled “Archbishop praises Alpha on Pope visit as Catholic church hosts conferences.” It noted that Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey praised the Alpha course in a speech in Rome during his official visit with Pope John Paul II in December of that year. In May 1997, more than 400 Catholic leaders attended an Alpha conference in Westminster Cathedral in London, to be trained in conducting Alpha courses in Catholic parishes. The meeting received the blessing of Cardinal Basil Hume, the highest Catholic official in England (Alpha News, February 1997, p. 1). The courses were so popular with the Catholics that many other Alpha training conferences were scheduled for Catholic venues. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants both are using Alpha. Two Catholic churches (Church of the Resurrection and St. Gerard’s) are meeting with Fortwilliam Park and Rosemary Presbyterian churches and with St. Peter’s Church of Ireland “for prayer and training” (The Burning Bush, February 1998). More recently, Alpha was endorsed by the archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal William Keeler (“Education through Alpha,” The Ledger, Lakeland, Florida, March 13, 1999, p. D3). The largest Alpha conference so far in the United States took place March 18-19, 1999, at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Winter Springs, Florida. It was attended by 600 people.

The Alpha program has achieved this ecumenical acceptance because it is doctrinally weak. It refers to salvation, the cross, the death of Christ, etc., in such a general way that false doctrine is not refuted. It says salvation is by grace, for instance, but it does not say that salvation is by grace ALONE by faith ALONE through the blood of Christ ALONE without works or sacraments. It refers to the Bible as God’s Word in a general sense, but it does not explain that the Bible is truly God’s inerrant, infallible, supernatural Word that must be reverenced and obeyed in every detail, that the Bible ALONE is the authority for faith and practice. It refers to Christ’s death on the cross, but does not plainly explain the vicarious atonement that was required for man’s salvation. It refers to man’s need, but it does not describe man as a totally depraved nature sinner. If Alpha were that specific, it is certain it would not be ecumenically popular in this apostate hour.

ALPHA PROMOTES CHARISMATIC CONFUSION
It is important to understand that the explosion of Holy Trinity Brompton’s (HTB) Alpha program coincides with that church’s involvement in the “Toronto Blessing” or the “Laughing Revival” since 1994.
Among those who attended the Laughing Revival in Toronto in 1994 from England was Eleanor Mumford, wife of Pastor John Mumford of the Southwest London Vineyard. Upon her arrival back in England, she testified of her experiences in Toronto and the Laughing Revival broke out in the Vineyard congregation, both in the general services and in various house meetings. One of these meetings in May 1994, was attended by Nicky Gumbel, the aforementioned Anglican priest from Holy Trinity Brompton who popularized the Alpha program. At the house meeting, Eleanor Mumford told of her experiences in Toronto and “invited the Holy Spirit to come.” The moment she did that, strange things began to happen. One person was thrown across the room and lay on the floor howling and laughing, “making the most incredible noise.” Another man lay on the floor “prophesying.” Some appeared to be drunken. Gumbel testified that he had an experience “like massive electricity going through my body.” Gumbel got himself together and rushed to a meeting at Holy Trinity Brompton, where he apologized for being late. When he closed that meeting with prayer and said, “Lord, thank you so much for all you are doing and we pray you’ll send your Spirit,” the same strange phenomena were again manifested. One of those present lay on the floor with his feet in the air and started laughing like a hyena. (This information is gathered from material I collected on my visit to HTB in 1997.)

When Sandy Millar, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, found out about the spiritual slayings of Gumbel and other HTB people, he and the other leaders invited Eleanor Mumford to speak at both the morning and evening Sunday services on May 29. When Mrs. Mumford finished speaking, she invited the Holy Spirit to come. The Laughing Revival broke out in HTB and the mainline British newspapers quickly broadcast it to the nation. On May 31, Millar and the pastoral director from HTB flew to Toronto to examine the “Toronto Blessing” firsthand. Thus, the Alpha program’s explosion into international popularity coincides with Holy Trinity Brompton becoming a British headquarters for the unscriptural Laughing (or Drunken) Revival.

There is also a connection between Holy Trinity Brompton and the confusion that is being perpetrated by the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida. In January 1995, a Pentecostal evangelist named Steve Hill was on his way back to the States from a missionary trip. Stopping over in London, he stayed with a charismatic Roman Catholic couple who open their home for visitors. Hearing of the happenings at Holy Trinity Brompton, Hill sought out Sandy Millar and requested that he lay hands on him. When Millar acquiesced, Hill was knocked down. This is how Hill describes it:


I stepped over bodies to get to the pastor. When Sandy touched me I fell to the ground (I don’t ever do that) … I was like a kid at a Toys ‘R’ Us … Then I got up and ran up to a couple and said, ‘Pray for me, hey man this is good.’ They touched me and wham! I went back down. Some of you God is going to hit in a powerful way. If you are hungry get prayed for a dozen times (Steve Hill, Father’s Day Video, Brownsville Assemblies of God Church).

Six months passed after Hill experienced a touch from the Laughing Revival spirit. On June 18, 1995, he was preaching in the Brownsville Assembly of God near Pensacola, Florida, when the Laughing or Drunken Revival broke out in what would become its greatest arena to date. John Kilpatrick, pastor of the Brownsville church, fell to the floor and lay there for almost four hours. “When I hit that floor, it felt like I weighed 10,000 pounds. I knew something supernatural was happening” (Kilpatrick, Charisma, June 1996). He has been so “drunk” that he could not drive himself home.

The “Pensacola Outpouring,” as it has been called by many Charismatics, has connections with the Laughing Revival in Toronto not only via Hill’s contact with HTB in London, England, but even more directly through visits of its members to Toronto. For several weeks before June 18, many members from the Brownsville Assembly of God had traveled to the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church to participate in the Laughing Revival. Just before he became the music leader at the Brownsville Assembly of God, Lindel Cooley attended the Toronto Laughing Revival meetings. The wife of Brownsville Assembly pastor, John Kilpatrick, visited Toronto two times accompanied by the wife of one of the church officers (Dr. Herb Babcock, former member of Brownsville AOG, “That’s How They Do It in Toronto!” The End Times, March-April 1997, p. 8). Also, prior to the June 18 breakout of the Laughing Revival in Brownsville, a film featuring the “Toronto Blessing” was shown in the church.

The close connection between Toronto, Brownsville, and Holy Trinity Brompton is evident, and it is this type of unscriptural, subjective, hunger-for-the-miraculous approach to Christianity that is being promoted by the Alpha program.

The Alpha course itself is permeated with Charismatic error. About half-way through the 10-week program, the leaders conduct “Holy Spirit Day” or even have a “Holy Spirit Weekend Away.” The purpose is to bring the participants into a Charismatic experience. Note that the focus is on the Holy Spirit rather than upon Jesus Christ. The leader “takes them through the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit” and prays for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Those who take the courses are urged to open themselves to the “slaying in the spirit” and other unscriptural experiences associated with the Charismatic movement. They “shake like a leaf in the wind” and experience “glowing all over” and “liquid heat.” The participants are taught that “tongues speaking” can be learned. They are taught to expect extra-biblical revelations from God through dreams and “words of knowledge.” One of the Alpha sessions deals with the question, “Does God Heal Today?” It is treated from a Charismatic-Pentecostal perspective. In the book Questions of Life (pp. 140-144), Gumbel says “tongues” can be used in worship, in prayer under pressure, and in intercessory prayer for other people. He treats “tongues” as a prayer language that Christians should exercise privately, and he claims that tongues must be “learned” through “perseverance.” He develops doctrine through human reasoning rather than through sound exegesis of the Word of God: “Languages take time to develop. Most of us start with a very limited vocabulary. Gradually it develops. Tongues are like that. It takes time to develop the gift. Don’t give up” (Gumbel, Questions of Life, p. 147). Nowhere in the New Testament do we see the Christians learning how to speak in tongues!

Nicky Gumbel was powerfully influenced by John Wimber, and there are many references to Wimber in Alpha material. In a video series, Gumbel traces his call to evangelism to a 1982 incident in which he received prayer from Wimber. As Wimber laid hands on him, “He experienced such supernatural power that he had to call out for it to stop.” Wimber also gave a “word of knowledge” that Gumbel had a gift of “telling others.”

John Wimber (1934-1997) was the founder of the Vineyard Association, comprised today of some 600 churches worldwide. In the mid-1970s, Wimber became affiliated with Fuller Theological Seminary and was strongly influenced by Fuller professor C. Peter Wagner, a pragmatic church growth expert. In analyzing church planting models, Wagner seems to be as impressed by “success” as with doctrinal purity. If a methodology “works” it has value, regardless of whether or not it is scriptural. Wimber applied this type of pragmatism to the practical side of Christian life and ministry. He focused more on experience and feeling than on doctrine. He warned against “worshipping the book” and mocked those who judge everything strictly by the Bible, saying they have “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Book” (Wimber, as cited in Counterfeit Revival, p. 109).

On another occasion Wimber warned against being “too rigid” and “too heavily oriented to the written Word” (Ibid.). One would say something like that only if he were attempting to promote things that were not in accordance with the Word of God. The Psalmist said the written Word “is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). It is impossible to be too strongly oriented toward the Bible! The Wimber mindset leaves one open to spiritual delusion. If the Holy Spirit operates contrary to the Word of God, there is no way to discern between the true Spirit and false spirits. This subtle undermining of biblical authority is one reason why strange and unscriptural things such as the Laughing Revival and the prophetic movement have swept through the Vineyard Association.

Wimber taught a course on “Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth” at Fuller Seminary in the early 1980s. Later he traveled to many parts of the world with his “signs and wonders” crusades, promoting his doctrine that the Christian life and ministry should be accompanied by experiential miracles to be authentic, that miracles produce faith. In his popular books Power Evangelism and Power Healing, Wimber promoted this idea: “Clearly the early Christians had an openness to the power of the Spirit, which resulted in signs and wonders and church growth. If we want to be like the early church, we too need to open to the Holy Spirit’s power” (Wimber, Power Evangelism, p. 31). In reality, kingdom power and the manifestation of the sons of God in glory will be enjoyed only when Christ returns, and we who live in this present world must patiently hope for those events (Rom. 8:23-25). Wimber did not deny Christ’s coming or the power that will be manifest at that time, but he also taught his followers to expect kingdom power now. This carnal enthusiasm for the miraculous is the climate required for the manifestation of a Laughing Revival and other End Times error.

It is John Wimber’s pragmatic, experience-oriented, subjective approach to Christianity that is promoted through the Alpha program.

Pastor Paul Fitton makes the following observation in his report on Alpha: “The Alpha Course is being used to prime the pump, to condition the thinking of church people to accept the teachings and phenomena which we associate with the Toronto Blessing — phenomena which have no anchorage in Scripture; doctrines which otherwise would be rejected out of hand. These phenomena are unbiblical. There is no ground in Scripture upon which to anchor them. The Alpha course in its philosophy is New Age. It relies heavily upon experience; in practice it leads to experiences which are rooted in the occult: if they are calling down the spirit and they are possessed by that spirit, and that spirit is not the Spirit of God, then they have opened their minds to other spirits, to evil spirits” (Fitton, “The Alpha Course: Is It Bible Based or Hell Inspired?” Australian Beacon, February 1998).

EVANGELISTIC BIBLE STUDIES: REJECT THE ALPHA PROGRAM BUT NOT THE ALPHA CONCEPT
The Alpha program itself is very dangerous, and we sound the loudest possible warning against participation in it. At the same time, the underlying concept is very interesting and could be used to good advantage by Bible-believing churches. Call them “Basic Christianity Bible Studies,” or “Basic Bible Truths,” or whatever other name is feasible. Evangelistic home Bible studies can be one of the most effective means for teaching the gospel in the careful, systematic way that is necessary for grounding people. The basic concept of Alpha is to provide a series of studies on the gospel and basic Christianity in a context that is casual, that allows the teacher to build a relationship with the students, and that allows the unsaved to relax and ask any questions that might be necessary to enable them to understand Bible truth.

The Alpha plan is described in the following information from a brochure that is used to advertise Alpha in England:

What Is Alpha? [an acrostic is formed with the first letter of the following sentences]
Anyone interested in finding out more about the Christian faith.
Learning and laughter. It is possible to learn about the Christian faith and have fun at the same time.
Pasta and pudding. Eating a meal together gives people an opportunity to get to know each other.
Helping one another. The small groups give you a chance to discuss issues raised in the talks.
Ask anything. Alpha is a place where no question is regarded as too simple or too hostile.

Who Is Alpha for?


Those wanting to investigate Christianity.

New Christians.

Those who feel that they have never really got going as a Christian.
Newcomers to the church.
Those who want to brush-up on the basics.

What’s Involved?
The evening Alpha course begins at 7pm with supper followed by a talk. We then divide into smaller groups for coffee and biscuits [cookies] and discuss any questions raised from the talk, aiming to finish by 9:45pm.
The morning Alpha course begins at 10am with a talk followed by coffee and discussion groups, aiming to finish by 12 noon.

The brochure is attractive and colorful and is designed for mass distribution. It includes a tear-off form that can be mailed to the church by those who are interested.

I don’t agree with the above Alpha philosophy in every detail, but
I AM MERELY POINTING OUT THAT ALPHA’S BASIC GOAL IS TO OFFER A SERIES OF BIBLE STUDIES IN A RELAXED ENVIRONMENT TO THOSE WHO DESIRE TO KNOW WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES. The liberal ecumenical churches are achieving great success with this approach, because many people do have questions about the Bible and are willing to attend the sessions. There is no reason why Bible-believing churches cannot take a similar tack but provide a truly sound Scriptural answer to people. The details and logistics of the program can be approached in many different ways according to the desires of the leaders and the requirements of the particular situation.

A similar approach can be used by Bible-believing churches to advertise a series of Bible studies conducted in homes or at the church or some other location. Any knowledgeable preacher could design a series of basic Bible studies that cover the Gospel, then other basic aspects of the Christian life, such as the Bible, prayer, and the church. It would not be difficult for a preacher to write his own series of basic lessons for the Bible studies, but there are also many developed courses that could be used for this. A good course for this purpose is called Basic Bible Truths by Lester Hutson (Berean Baptist Publications, 10250 North Freeway, Houston, TX 77037). This consists of six lessons that carefully and systemically guide the seeker through the truths of the Gospel. It lacks a clear presentation of repentance, but this can be added by the teacher. Another possibility would be to use Source of Light materials. They have evangelistic and basic discipleship correspondence courses [Source of Light, 1011 Madison Rd., Madison, GA 30650-9399. 706-342-0397 (voice), 706-342-9072 (fax), sol1usa@aol.com (e-mail).]

SUGGESTIONS FOR USING “BASIC CHRISTIANITY BIBLE STUDIES”
1. Use the Bible studies as a focus for mass evangelism programs
(house to house literature distribution, radio broadcasts, etc.). Include a brochure announcing the “Basic Christianity Bible Studies” or “Learn Basic Bible Truths.” Instead of trying to pressure people into praying a prayer before they understand the gospel, focus instead to get the interested ones involved in a series of Bible studies where a relationship can be established and they can be dealt with carefully. This is what Paul did. He preached the gospel to the masses, then took the interested ones aside and instructed them more carefully in the things of God (Acts 17:34; 18:5-11).

2. Use the Bible studies to reach out to specific neighborhoods. Bible studies can be conducted in many different neighborhoods by various men and women in the church and thus greatly expand the outreach. The Bible studies can become the focus for the soul winning efforts in the various neighborhoods. These are not “cell groups,” but are evangelistic Bible studies with the goal of getting people saved and brought into the membership of the church (and incorporated into the full life of the church, including the regular services). The studies can also be used to provide basic discipleship for new Christians to establish them in the faith and to help the new Christians build close relationships with mature church members.

3. Use the Bible studies to target specific groups of people. Basic Christianity Bible Studies can be geared to specific groups, such as women, teenagers, foreigners, professionals, uneducated, deaf, etc. By offering Bible studies for a particular group, the church can focus on their special needs in a way that cannot be done during regular church services or Sunday School.

For example, in American cities today there are large numbers of immigrants and visitors and students from other countries and cultures. They often need special consideration when the Gospel is communicated to them. Oftentimes they do not speak English well. It is not uncommon for them to be completely ignorant of the gospel or even of the most basic facts of the Bible and Christianity.

The typical “Romans Road” gospel presentation that uses a few verses out of Romans will often be insufficient. They need to be taught the very basics of biblical truth, such as creation and the fall of man and the uniqueness of the Bible, before they can understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of that can be taught out of Romans, of course, because Romans itself begins with creation and the fall of man, but this is not what most people do when they present the “Romans Road.” Many people will not be familiar with any of the terms of the gospel, such as sin and repentance and grace and faith. Unless those terms are carefully explained, they will “hear” the gospel, but they will not understand it. Too much of the soul winning activity in North America is of this nature because it is simply too shallow and hurried. Missionaries who work in other parts of the world understand this and develop ways of teaching the gospel effectively to their people, but too often personal workers in North America approach foreigners without proper knowledge of how they think and how to reach them. They try to reach them exactly as they would someone who has grown up in the Bible-belt of the United States, and they wonder why it doesn’t work. Involving select groups of people in Bible studies that are geared to their needs and that are led by people who understand them can solve many of these problems.

A good series of Bible studies for use with many foreigners is “Firm Foundations: Creation to Christ” by New Tribes Mission. Though we do not recommend New Tribes as a mission, we do praise the Lord for their zeal to carry the gospel to those who have not heard, and they have published an excellent aid for evangelizing those who do not have a Bible background. “Firm Foundations” is available in English, Russian, Spanish, Albanian, and other languages. There are 50 lessons designed for a one-year course, but they also have a plan for teaching the material in a shorter period. The teacher’s manual includes three 17″ X 22″ color maps and one 17″ X 66″ color chart of the Bible events covered. The lessons begin with creation and follow God’s revelation of the gospel progressively through the Bible, highlighting important themes. The standard edition is designed for adults and teens. There is also a Children’s Edition for younger ages, and the 50 lessons in the Children’s Edition parallel those in the adult edition. This course would be excellent for home Bible studies. It could also be used effectively in North American churches as a Sunday School class for people from other parts of the world who speak English as a second language. Many of these people are open to hearing about the Bible and Jesus Christ, but they often are confused by the standard preaching and teaching at churches because they don’t understand even the basics of Bible truth. Fundamental Baptist missionary friend John O’Brien gives the following testimony of the Russian edition of the “Firm Foundations” course: “There is a comprehensive Chronological Gospel book (‘Firm Foundations: Creation to Christ’) in Russian being printed by New Tribes Mission. I’ve examined the book personally at length and have found it to be sound. We plan on using the book for discipleship for new converts. Though we personally disagree with NTM on it’s various doctrines, nonetheless we’ve found this particular book a rare gem due to it’s thoroughness in presenting the necessary principles of the Gospel: God’s Holiness, Man’s Sinful Depravity, Consequences of Sin, Promise of the Redeemer, Substitutionary Atonement, Salvation by God’s grace.” [New Tribes Mission, 1000 E. First St., Sanford, FL 32771-1487. 800-321-5375, 407-323-3430 (voice), ntm@ntm.org (e-mail), http://www.ntm.org (web site)]

4. Use the Bible studies to assist those who might not be able to attend a church (or a fundamentalist or a Baptist church in particular). There are people of certain religions who are not allowed to attend a church, but they might be able to attend a home Bible study. Some Catholics fear attending a Protestant or Baptist church. There are young people and wives who are not allowed by their parents to attend a church. The Bible studies can be a means of reaching these people with the gospel.

5. Use the Bible studies with evangelistic revival meetings. It is said that only about 5% of people making professions at large (mass or city-wide) revivals go on to become active church members. Of course, one would suppose the percentage to be higher in local church revivals. Still, the percentage of those who don’t “stick” is appallingly high in all types of evangelistic programs today. There are many reasons for this, one of the chief being that scores of those making professions do not truly understand the gospel and are, therefore, not fully committing themselves to Christ in biblical repentance and faith. It’s one thing to say, “Yea, I’ll go along with that; it sounds good,” and quite another to be truly born again of the Spirit of God. If most of those coming forward in revivals were strongly encouraged to commit themselves to a six- or ten- or twelve- week Bible study course and if godly, mature church members faithfully taught the course, we can only imagine that the lasting fruit of our meetings would be ten-fold greater than would otherwise be the case.

XIV. ALPHA: New Life or New Lifestyle?*** by Elizabeth McDonald, 1996 

http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~emcd/index12.htm

This is the (fully revised) text of a booklet I wrote on the Alpha Course in 1995/6. Although my assessment was performed on the original video talks, the essential points I made still apply – especially given that HTB insists Alpha’s doctrine never changes.

Jo Gardner, in the Preface to that booklet, wrote:

“…Nicky Gumbel over-emphasises what we are saved to at the expense of what we are saved from. This imbalance is a general trend in ‘new’ evangelical circles at present and seems to be increasing in prominence … It stems from teaching that God is primarily love when the scriptures point to the primary characteristic of God as being holy … The result of emphasising God’s love is that the need of repentance for sin and the consequences of that sin in the sight of a holy God who must, and will, judge it is hardly mentioned.

“Christians are being presented with a deficient … understanding of God and the basis of our relationship with Him. I am convinced that there are now many in the churches who believe they are Christians but are not, because they have never truly repented of sin and become dependent on Jesus Christ both as Saviour and Lord. The result is a church which is in many respects no different to the world and is also wide open to receive every deceptive teaching and activity presented to it.”

The Alpha Initiative is the most popular evangelistic programme in use in Britain’s churches at present. Alpha’s publications manager advises everyone “to do the course exactly as we’ve laid out for the first time – because we know it works” [Mark Elsdon-Dew, Christian Herald, 9/Dec/1995, p2]. At first glance this advice seems well and good, but in fact a purely pragmatic approach to spiritual things is not scriptural and can even be very dangerous…

I do agree that “the natural desire of every Christian is to see souls saved”, but I would also ‘amen’ this same writer’s following statement that “at the same time we cannot simply close our eyes to all evangelistic outreaches trusting that they are Biblically sound. There are two questions we must ask: What is the ultimate aim, and what kind of gospel will be preached?” [Tricia Tillin, Networking: A Global Vision, Mainstream, Winter 1993, p3]. Referring to Matthew 23:15, Robert Bowman of the CRI (an evangelical discernment ministry) writes: “The Pharisees were extremely zealous in missionary work, but all they succeeded in doing was leading more people into their error. Zeal in witnessing or evangelising does not indicate that a religious group is God’s people” [Orthodoxy and Heresy: A Guide to Doctrinal Discernment, 1993, p25]. Today we might apply that to Jehovah’s Witnesses for example.

Alpha certainly starts by making many gospel statements.  However, as the course progresses, some of the talks tend to wander off into (a) lengthy accounts of Holy Trinity Brompton’s experiences of the Toronto Blessing and associated ministries, (b) novel exegeses of various Bible passages common amongst pro-Toronto preachers, (c) calls for unity despite truth, and (d) an over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit. All of these are less than helpful to potential Christians.

I Alpha’s Connection with the Toronto Blessing

The Alpha Course has been used at HTB since 1977 yet was virtually unknown elsewhere until Eleanor Mumford of the South-West London Vineyard church brought the Blessing back from the Toronto Airport Vineyard church in Canada to HTB, via Nicky Gumbel, in May 1994.1 In Talk 9, Gumbel spends a substantial amount of time relating to Alpha participants exactly how it occurred:

“We went to their house … where a group of leaders of their church was meeting … Ellie Mumford told us a little bit of what she had seen in Toronto … it was obvious that Ellie was just dying to pray for all of us … then she said ‘Now we’ll invite the Holy Spirit to come’ and the moment she said that, one of the people there was thrown, literally, across the room and was lying on the floor, just howling and laughing … making the most incredible noise … I experienced the power of the Spirit in a way I hadn’t experienced for years, like massive electricity going through my body … One of the guys was prophesying. He was just lying there prophesying…” Gumbel returned to HTB where he apologised for being late for a meeting due to what had happened. Asked to close this meeting in prayer he says “I prayed ‘Lord, thank you so much for all you are doing and we pray you’ll send your Spirit’ and I was just about to say ‘in Jesus name, Amen’ and go out the door when the Spirit came on the people who were in the room. One of them started laughing like a hyena…”

There are a few observations to make here. The first is the unquestioning acceptance by both groups of such manifestations. Similarly, the invocation of the Spirit was not queried. Secondly, I think it is pertinent to note that the Spirit came before the name of Jesus could be brought into the prayer. Thirdly, if one chap really was prophesying, then he was speaking directly to these people from God and his words should have been heeded, tested, and applied. But it seems they were completely ignored.

Later on in this account, and in Talk 7, Gumbel compares the behaviour of these Toronto recipients (as do all Toronto leaders) to the ‘drunken’ behaviour of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. He says “they [the apostles] looked as though they were drunk; some of the manifestations were the same as that of a drunkard”. Although this exegesis is a convenient explanation of the ‘spiritual drunkenness’ being seen at TB meetings, it is not the Biblical one, and has not been preached as such until now. The vast majority of the crowd were “amazed” and “confounded” not because the apostles were showing “all the signs of inebriation” (Talk 7), and which the passage itself nowhere says, but because we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:6-12). The crowd formed because of the sound of these tongues (v6) which were clear and easily understood. It was only a minority who accused the apostles of being “full of new wine” (v13), and there is no indication in the passage that, of such a large crowd, their’s was the considered judgment.

The result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a lengthy and powerful sermon that brought approximately 3000 people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ almost immediately. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not given that we may lie on the floor on our backs with our feet in the air laughing like hyenas (Talk 9). Gumbel’s description of the antics that went on in the vestry of HTB after their invocation of the Spirit seems to me to bear no resemblance at all to what happened on the day of Pentecost.2

Yet Alpha participants are being taught all this, as part of an evangelistic / Christian Living course, as though it is normal and desirable, with absolutely no mention made of the need to test it; and at the end of this talk they are prayed for, corporately, to receive it. Thus they are initiated into the Toronto Blessing without a whimper of protest amongst them.

“I believe it is no coincidence that the present movement of the Holy Spirit [i.e. the TB] has come at the same time as the explosion of the Alpha Courses. I think the two go together” [Nicky Gumbel, The Spirit and Evangelism, Renewal, May 1995, p15].

A. PROBLEMS WITH THE TORONTO BLESSING

1. The Blessing itself as experienced in meetings

Originated with Rodney Howard-Browne the ‘Holy Ghost Bartender’.3

a) The nature of the blessing is experiential not Word-based, soulish not spiritual, ultimately self-seeking not God-seeking.4

b) The focus of worship is removed from the Father and the Son and placed instead on the Holy Spirit, contrary to John 14:26; 15:26; and 16:13-15. This is paralleled in the New Age movement’s emphasis on the “coming of the Age of the Spirit (Aquarius) and consequently the demise of the Age of the Son (Pisces) and all who follow him” [David Forbes, Prophecy Today, Nov/Dec 1994, p12].5

c) There is an over-emphasis on the power and – selective – gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues, words of knowledge and prophecies [which are never tested against Scripture, e.g. as per 1 Corinthians 14:29], and healing). The gift of discerning of spirits is noticeable by its absence.

d) The fruit of the Holy Spirit is seen to be tangible ‘feelings’ of love for Jesus etc as produced by these experiences, rather than the life-long sanctification by the Word which is based on faith, not sight.6 Once these ‘feelings’ wear off, the believer returns for a top-up. LSD works the same way.

e) The un-Biblical practice of invoking the Holy Spirit: “If worshippers call out for the Spirit to descend upon them, the response may come from anywhere in the spirit world. The manifestations may well be spectacular, but counterfeit” [Clifford Hill, Prophecy Today, Sep/Oct 1994, p12].7

f) Many of the experiences / manifestations have no scriptural backing – except in the negative, and are more comparable with the works of the spirits of Eastern Mysticism and other unhealthy spirits than with the works of the Holy Spirit of God.8 Describing his visit to the Toronto Airport Vineyard church, David Noakes says “The ‘Toronto twitch’, for example, is explained as a power surge from the Holy Spirit. But Jesus did not go around having sudden power surges He couldn’t control [and nor did His disciples!] … many of the jerkings I saw in Toronto I would identify as being due to the spirits of voodoo. Some are due to spirits of martial arts. Some are due to spirits of lust. I would have no hesitation in declaring that animal noises do not come from the Holy Spirit. I have seen far too much of people manifesting animal noises and being delivered from the spirits of those very animals they are imitating” [David Noakes, Dealing with Poison in the Pot, audio tape CFCM 95/04, Jan 1995, side 1].

2. Theology underlying the Toronto Blessing

The Latter-Rain Movement.

Essentially, this is a ‘Christianised’ form of the secular theory of evolution which, beginning with the physical evolution of man from primitive life-forms, will culminate, so we are told, in the spiritual evolution of man into gods. This will supposedly be achieved through man’s realisation of his ‘Christ consciousness’ or the ‘Christ within’ which, the New Age gurus tell us, is now beginning to occur as we move from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. The whole thing is, of course, the belief in the lie which Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:4-5), yet it is finding its way into the Christian Church through the Latter-Rain movement’s teaching on the ‘Manifest-Sons-of-God’, and the Word-of-Faith teaching on the ‘deification of man’. The Latter-Rain worldview also incorporates the closely interrelated doctrines of: Kingdom-Now, Dominionism and Restorationism. These teachings are post-millennial and Triumphalist (i.e. they replace the Lord Jesus with the Church) and include within them Replacement theology, which is a subtle form of anti-semitism.9

Latter-Rain doctrine was rejected as a heresy by the Assemblies of God in the 1950s, though accepted by other Pentecostal leaders such as William Branham (who was a direct influence on Paul Cain of the Kansas City Prophets), Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin (the so-called ‘father’ of the Word-of-Faith movement), and three out of the ‘Fort Lauderdale Five’ who for many years published the widely read magazine New Wine. Having bubbled along underground for a number of years, Latter-Rain teachings have now resurfaced in various forms in many Charismatic churches on both sides of the Atlantic – in particular the Vineyard group of churches.

The Kansas City Prophets are based at the Metro Vineyard church, the pastor of which is Mike Bickle whose recommendation of the Alpha Initiative can be seen in various editions of HTB in Focus: Alpha News, e.g. Aug 1995, p3.10

The comment made by Sandy Millar at the beginning of Video I – “Is it possible to attract people to the Christian faith today, in the sort of numbers that we need?” raises the question: “need” for what? Every unbeliever needs personal salvation, that is why the gospel is preached. But Sandy Millar did not say that. The paragraph of which that comment is a part concentrates on the Church’s need for members; for “new growth and new life” of the Church. Revival of the Church would be wonderful, but Scripture actually tells us that the opposite will happen before the return of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 24:7-13; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4 etc).11 However, Restorationist / Kingdom-Now theology needs vast numbers of Christians so that the Church – united, militant and triumphant – can bring about God’s Kingdom on earth and then hand it over, restored to its Edenic state, to Jesus at His coming. Obviously that is a violent distortion of, amongst other scriptures, Acts 3:21. Nevertheless it is an eschatology being taught and believed in many Charismatic Fellowships today. Corporate, not individual, repentance is necessary to achieve the numbers required to form “God’s endtime army that will march through the land to victory”; the ultimate aim of evangelism being “the establishing of the Kingdom of God apart from Christ’s return” [Mainstream, Summer 1994, p8].

So one of my concerns is whether the TB, which is being experienced at HTB, can possibly be divorced from the Alpha Initiative. In view of the similarities of emphasis and content between the two, I’m not sure that it can. Consequently I am concerned that, in using the Alpha course, churches may inadvertently be introducing participants to the TB (along with all that this it is a forerunner of) by the back door.12

[It is worthy of note that, on 5th December 1995 (i.e. after almost two years of the TB being spread around the globe), the board of the Association of Vineyard churches removed the Toronto Airport Vineyard church (TAV) from the Vineyard organisation. John Wimber (Vineyard’s late leader) said he felt that “the leaders of TAV have strong convictions which could not be reconciled with Vineyard values and the pastoral leadership and correction coming from the Vineyard Board”. However, another possibility is that, since the TB was by that time being widely dispensed from Pensacola, Vineyard would make itself appear less extreme if it distanced itself from the progenitor. This had the added ‘bonus’ of encouraging many of TB’s doubters to accept Pensacola as a reasonable alternative.]13

In common with the leadership of the Toronto Blessing, Alpha also promotes “unity” between Protestants and Roman Catholics, with no consideration of the irreconcilable doctrines of the two Churches. Thus another major concern is Alpha’s trend towards Ecumenism.

II Power Evangelism

“Where evangelism is integrally related to the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit” [Nicky Gumbel, Telling Others: The Alpha Initiative, p20].

Heavily influenced by the ‘Signs and Wonders’ ministry of John Wimber in the 1980s, power evangelism has been one of the preparation grounds for the Toronto Experience. It focuses on a pragmatic / experiential rather than a proclamatory / doctrinal approach to spreading the gospel. As such it tends to shift the focus away from the shed blood of Jesus on the cross and onto the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit carried out by men. This is the method of evangelism favoured by Alpha [see Telling Others, pp21-24; 29-31].

Dave Hunt, of Berean Call Ministries in America, has wisely written of power evangelism: “The over-emphasis upon and obsessive seeking after the power of the Spirit has caused many to forget that He is the ‘Spirit of truth’ who leads us into ‘all truth‘, and the ‘Holy Spirit’ who purifies our lives to God’s glory … The power that is manifested in miracles is more highly regarded than the power of truth to change hearts and deliver from bondage to sin … Sound doctrine loses its importance, while experiences are eagerly cultivated and made the basis for understanding God’s will and even for interpreting His word … In contrast … Paul declared that ‘the power’ is in the preaching of the cross (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18; Acts 14:1) … When Christians are more impressed with ‘miracles’ and ‘results’ than with adherence to sound doctrine the church is in serious trouble … We too often fail to make certain that those who are called upon ‘to decide for Christ’ fully understand the decision they are being asked to make … The emphasis throughout Scripture, and to which the church must return today, is clearly placed upon truth and understanding (1 John 5:20,21; John 8:43-45)” [Dave Hunt, Beyond Seduction: A Return to Biblical Christianity, 1987, pp77, 78, 238, 257].14

III Alpha and the New Age

All of this heightened interest amongst Charismatic Christians in ‘Signs and Wonders’ and the supernatural experiences of the Toronto Blessing is a reflection of spiritual and cultural changes going on outside Christianity, of which New Age experiential mysticism is a predominant force.

Nicky Gumbel is aware of the paradigm shift from reason to experience: “In the Enlightenment, reason ruled supreme and explanation led to experience. In the present transitional culture, with its ‘pick-and-mix’ worldview in which the New Age movement is a potent strand, experiences lead to explanation” [Telling Others, p19].

Neo-mysticism is already so pervasive that virtually every non-Christian participant of Alpha – or any other evangelistic initiative – will to some degree reflect New Age thinking. In New Age philosophy, “experiences lead to explanation”; but in Christianity, “If experience becomes relevant in certain areas it becomes relevant in applying the Word” [David Noakes, Dealing with Poison in the Pot, side 1]. Yet, like the Toronto Experience, the thrust of Alpha is towards the experiential and away from the written Word.

One pastor who has made use of the Alpha Course writes: “One of the problems of proclaiming the gospel in a post-modern world is that culture itself warms much more readily to lifestyle than to doctrine. But the Christian lifestyle is not Christian faith … I have a suspicion that some of those people are being converted to a Christian lifestyle rather than to Christ” [Ian Lewis, The Alpha Course, Evangelicals Now, Dec 1995].

The two ‘testimonies’ given by Alpha participants at the beginning of the first Alpha video are prime examples of the above. There are certain basic elements one would expect to hear in a classic conversion testimony: The conviction of sin leading to repentance; the subsequent assurance of God’s forgiveness; and salvation through the death on the cross of Jesus Christ. Yet these are absent in any form in these ‘testimonies’. As for the “new creation” of which Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 5:17, the good news would seem to be that there isn’t one. Before she became a Christian, one of the participants recalls that she didn’t want a personality change; she was happy with her life and saw no reason for change: “I now realise that my personality hasn’t changed at all, but I feel that what has happened, I’m actually getting more out of what I already had there, and I think that’s really God’s work doing that”.

A relationship with God is sometimes referred to, as is the discovery of prayer, an interest in Bible reading, in church-going, in Christianity, and what Alpha has done for them. However, Jesus and what He has done for them, and a personal relationship with Him are
not mentioned at all. Yet the Lord Jesus is the gospel. He is salvation. He is their new life. These things being so, how can He possibly be so completely overlooked in a basic conversion testimony? Adherents of false religions claim a relationship with God, and a prayer life, but they are not saved. Many churchgoers read their Bibles and have an interest in church and in Christianity, but they are not saved. Likewise, more compassion / understanding at work, more patience, tolerance, confidence, and deep feelings of contentment can equally well be produced by a sense of psychological well-being. Without the cross they do not constitute salvation. The attempt by Gumbel to bring Jesus into the testimonies by asking exactly what had made these differences was met with a blank look and the response: “Just the relationship that I’ve developed with God. Simple as that”.

These testimonies seemed to me, as Ian Lewis suggests, only evidence of conversion to a Christian lifestyle, not to Christ. And when the “Christian lifestyle” is an endless round of ‘blessings’, supernatural ‘experiences’, spiritual ‘parties’ [see Talk 14] and ‘play’ times,15 none of which is noticeably different from non-Christian spiritual experiences, then the transition from the counterfeit spirituality of the New Age to Christianity is really only one of degree, not kind. That being so, I would echo the question of one evangelical minister who asked: “What is it they are converted to?”

IV Evangelism or Christian Living?

“Scripture tells us that salvation comes through hearing the gospel, and I would expect any course aimed at non-Christians to concentrate primarily on the facts of the gospel. The Alpha course deals with the basics of the gospel in two sessions … While these are unequivocally gospel presentations, the remainder of the course deals essentially with what may be described as Christian living … When we used an adapted version of the course in our church, non-Christians were left behind by about the sixth week. They still had very fundamental questions about what Christians believe, which were not answered by talking about how Christians live, and for this reason the course seemed more suited to people who have already made a commitment to Christ” [Ian Lewis, Evangelicals Now, Dec 1995].

In his introduction to the Alpha videos, Sandy Millar recognises that “most people need time in which to consider the most important claims they have ever had to face”. It is ironic then that time is not given to Alpha participants in which to consider the person and work of Jesus Christ before they are rushed into the rest of the course.

A. THE HOLY SPIRIT WEEKEND

White Alpha training manual pp26-36, Talks 7-9

“For a long time in the church the person and work of the Holy Spirit has been ignored. There has been a greater concentration on the Father and the Son” [p26].

“We live in the age of the Spirit” [p29].

These statements are misleading. Firstly, since an unbeliever or new Christian would not know the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Father and the Son, the statements effectively marginalise the first two sessions on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus and serve to prepare the participant to accept unquestioningly anything that may occur during the weekend. Secondly, Christians have always referred to the period of time between the first and second advents as the age of Grace, or the Church age. That has not changed. Why then encourage, in today’s precarious spiritual climate, the New Age concept of the Age of Aquarius (the spirit)?

Continuing his observations on the New Age, Nicky Gumbel writes: “I have found on Alpha that those from an essentially enlightened background feel at home with the parts of the course which appeal to the mind, but often have difficulty in experiencing the Holy Spirit. Others coming from the New Age movement find that rational and historical explanations leave them cold, but at the weekend away they are on more familiar territory in experiencing the Holy Spirit” [Telling Others, p19].

But it is the “rational and historical explanations” of sessions 1 and 2 which are the essence of the gospel (Acts 2:22-41; 6:9-7:60; 8:26-38; 17:16-33) and which the unbeliever must grasp and accept with his mind, under the convicting and illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, if he is to repent and experience salvation in his heart (Rom. 10:13-14). Moreover, it is by the renewing of his mind that the Christian is transformed and made holy (Romans 12:1,2; see also Psalm 19:7-11), and without holiness he will not see God (Hebrews 12:14).

Nevertheless: “At the end of the course I send out questionnaires … if there is a change I ask when that change occurred. For many, the decisive moment is the Saturday evening of the weekend” [Telling Others, p120]. This is the time when Gumbel invites the Holy Spirit to come and participants are filled with the Spirit [see Telling Others, pp117, 120, 123; Blue Alpha training manual, p18].

I find this extremely worrying. The “decisive moment” should surely be the point at which a person steps over from eternal death to eternal life through the conversion experience (John 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 10:9, 10, 13; and other refs). But most of the testimonies in Telling Others seem to confuse the experience of conversion with the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

But is this surprising when Gumbel himself seems to treat conversion as a preliminary to the main event? The breath of new life into a repentant sinner is taught in Talk 7, but Gumbel does not make it clear that this happens at conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17). Rather, he suggests this is due to a second experience: the baptism in the Spirit. References to Isaiah 61:1-3 and to Samson’s freedom “from the ropes that bound him”, for example, are applied to the Holy Spirit despite the fact that in Luke 4:16-21 Jesus is quoting the Isaiah passage with reference to Himself. It is the shed blood of the Lord Jesus that frees us from the things that bind us (John 8:32-36; Galatians 5:1; Revelation 1:5). Likewise, in discussing Paul’s conversion in Talk 9, the emphasis is placed not on Paul’s meeting with Jesus Christ but on his subsequent baptism in the Spirit.

On preparing participants for baptism in the Holy Spirit, leaders are advised to “take time to sort out difficulties of understanding, belief and assurance; lead to Christ” [Blue Alpha training manual, p17; Telling Others, pp116-120]. To say that to be unsaved is a “difficulty of understanding, belief and assurance” is, I would suggest, an understatement of some magnitude! Coupled with the un-Biblical practice of invoking the Holy Spirit at this point in the course, it is necessary to ask whether it truly is the baptism in the Holy Spirit these participants are experiencing. The ramifications, if it is not, are obvious and terrible.16

The following testimony is an alarming example of the confusion between conversion and baptism in the Holy Spirit, but it is by no means the only one:

“[M]y wife encouraged me to read an article in a magazine about the Alpha course at HTB. What had stuck in my mind was how the work of the Holy Spirit was described as of paramount importance. I knew in my heart I had to have his power in my life at any cost. So I … enrolled on the course and focused on the weekend where the work of the Holy Spirit is discussed … Never mind the weeks of pre-med, I just had to get into the operating theatre … I looked at the order of play, saw that the third session on ‘How can I be filled with the Spirit’ (which I identified as the main one) was at 4:30pm and simply hung on like a marathon runner weaving his way up the finishing straight with nothing but the finishing tape as the focus of his attention … the prize was so near but we were getting there so slowly. I literally wanted to scream out ‘Do it now! Do it now! I can’t hold out any longer’. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was in agony. Then Nicky Gumbel invited the Spirit to come and oh, the relief…” [Interview in Renewal, Oct 1995, p16; Telling Others, pp36-37].

Once that startling testimony sinks in, a few things become apparent: Firstly, as with the testimonies on the video, even the basic elements of a conversion testimony are missing. In fact the gospel of Christ is referred to here as “pre-med” in which, the participant plainly states, he had no interest. (The “prize” was not considered to be salvation but this other experience. Another example of the Alpha spirit falling on the unsaved?)

Secondly, not only did Nicky Gumbel not seek to correct the focus of this participant from the Holy Spirit onto the Lord Jesus where it rightly belongs, and ensure he had actually been saved, but he also gave the testimony a prominent place in Telling Others as a witness and example to others. (Incidentally, Dominionism and Triumphalism are evident in the last three paragraphs of the full testimony as given in Renewal [p17]. This participant is now a helper on Alpha courses at HTB.)

In Talk 8, Gumbel says “When we come to Christ the first thing the Holy Spirit wants to do is to assure us of that relationship, and that we are totally, totally forgiven”. Although he continues “the Holy Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are children of God”, all the subsequent examples focus on soulish (i.e. tangible) feelings and experiences. The testimony at the beginning of Video I, in which “a sensation of energy … as if I had 5000 volts thrashing through my body” is seen to be the Holy Spirit’s assurance of salvation, is only one example of the results of such teaching. Experiences of this kind can be, and are, produced by any spirit wanting access to a believer’s life. I am not convinced they come from the Holy Spirit.

The misuse of Ephesians 5:18-20 and Revelation 22:17 in Talk 8, in order to initiate Alpha participants into the TB, is inexcusable. In the Ephesians passage, Paul is not commanding the believers to experience a second Pentecost, but is rebuking them for behaving like pagans and unbelievers. Verse 18 is a contrast not a comparison between the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit and the fruit produced by the sinful nature. It is a call by Paul, not for baptism (i.e. empowerment for building up the Church) but for sanctification, for some evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives which at that point was seriously lacking.

The passage in Revelation has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Pentecost (the Holy Spirit is hardly going to invoke Himself) and everything to do with the physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of the age.

Though the prayer at the close of these talks includes repentance, the gospel talks are not, at this point, uppermost in participants’ minds, and the corporate request “inviting the Holy Spirit to come and fill us” is then made by all in the room.

The content of these three talks overlaps to such an extent that they could quite easily have been combined into one address. In fact each aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work could have been included in the relevant sections of the other talks. The Spirit’s conviction of sin in an unbeliever, for example, fits in with Talks 2 and 3; assurance of salvation in Talk 4; teaching believers the Word in Talk 5; enabling believers to pray in Talk 6; producing fruit and empowering us for certain ministries in Talk 15 and so on.17

Through these talks the focus has thus shifted very definitely from the cross of Christ to the power of the Spirit.

B. HOW CAN I RESIST EVIL?

White Alpha training manual, pp39-45, Talk 10

In section II of this session, Satan’s tactics are listed. He: destroys; blinds eyes; causes doubt; tempts; accuses.

Gumbel applies all of these to the area of Christian behaviour. Deception, the tactic focusing on belief, is omitted. This oversight can be deadly. Deception concerning doctrine is Satan’s most powerful weapon against the Church, and new Christians need to be made aware just how practised Satan is at deceiving Christians through false doctrines and false spiritual experiences.18

When asked by His disciples what would be the signs of His return, the Lord’s first words in response were “Take heed that no man deceive you” (Matthew 24:4, also 24:5, 10-11 & 23-25).

A great deal of the content of the letters to the New Testament churches were warnings against being deceived by heresies and false teachers (e.g. 2 Corinthians 11:3; Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:24; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11; the list of references is almost endless).

One of the main factors in the unquestioning acceptance of the Toronto Experience is that we believers simply do not realise we are capable of being deceived; that not everything supernatural necessarily comes from God, despite many cases in Scripture where supernatural happenings originate in the occult (see, for example, Exodus 7:11-12; Acts 8:9-11; Acts 16:16-18; Revelation 13:1-3, 11-15).

Nicky Gumbel points out in this talk that occult activity “always comes under the guise of something good”. The Toronto Blessing is seen as “something good”. How strange then that neither he nor anyone else at HTB thought to test the Toronto spirit before accepting it and then passing it on to everyone else.19

A solid grounding in essential doctrine, the cultivation of the Berean spirit (Acts 17:11) and a familiarity with eschatology are vital in combating deception in these last days. None of these is experiential. All of them require application of the mind. All of them have been in short supply in the Charismatic movement to date.

C. HOW DOES GOD GUIDE US?

White Alpha training manual, pp46-51, Talk 11

The “Guiding Spirit” and “more unusual ways” of guidance referred to in this talk, especially guidance by angels, need thorough testing against Scripture in today’s religious climate in which false prophets and occult ‘spirit guides’, masquerading as angels of light, abound.

For millennia, spiritists have been mediums for familiar spirits and divining spirits. Now, as New Agers are regarding themselves as ‘channellers’ for their ‘spirit guides’, so too there is an alarming trend emerging amongst experience-orientated Christians, mainly in America, to talk of their ‘angel guides’.20

A testimony in HTB in Focus, Alpha News, Aug 1995, in which Jesus is referred to as “a guiding light” (p14), is just an inkling of what may be to come.

D. WHY AND HOW SHOULD WE TELL OTHERS?

White Alpha training manual, pp52-57, Talk 12

See comments in II Power Evangelism above.

E. DOES GOD HEAL TODAY?

White Alpha training manual, pp58-62, Talk 13

During this talk, Nicky Gumbel tells Alpha participants of the visit by John Wimber, and some of Wimber’s helpers, to HTB in 1982 to demonstrate God’s power to heal. He says: “John Wimber then said ‘We’ve had words of knowledge’. These are supernatural revelations, things that they couldn’t have known otherwise about the conditions of people in the room … specific details were given, accurately describing the conditions … as the list was responded to, the level of faith in the room was rising”. Gumbel says that he still felt “cynical and hostile” until the following evening when he was prayed for: “So they prayed for the Spirit to come … I felt something like 10,000 volts going through my body … The American [on Wimber’s team] had a fairly limited prayer. He just said ‘more power’ … it was the only thing he ever prayed. I can’t remember him ever praying anything else … Now we’ve seen many kinds of these manifestations of the Spirit on the weekends … these manifestations … and the physical healings themselves are not the important thing … the fruit of the Spirit … these are the things that matter, the fruit that comes from these experiences. So we began to realise that God heals miraculously…”

Bearing in mind that his warning in Talk 10 – about occult activity disguising itself as something good – used healing as an example, it is surprising that Gumbel gives no indication here that he or anyone else attending the meeting tested the phenomena (or those bringing it) to ensure that everything came from the Holy Spirit. Gumbel surely knows that, like healings, words of knowledge and prophecies can also come from an occult source. That they are factual or come to pass does not prove their source is God. They could equally well come from a spirit of divination (see Acts 16:16-19), and if they do, they and the person uttering them must be rejected (see Deuteronomy 13:1-11). I am not saying that this is necessarily the case here, but everything claiming supernatural origin must be tested, no matter how renowned the person producing them might be.

The fact that the “level of faith” rose in response to the accuracy of the words given merely indicates the extent of the gullibility of the congregation, not the source of the words, or the healings which may have followed.

To hear the prayer “more power” so many years before the TB where, along with “more Lord” it has become a kind of mantra, startled me. With no mention of the name of the Lord Jesus, this American gave Gumbel no indication of who he was praying to or what sort of “power” he was praying for. Worse still, Gumbel did not ask him. A prayer of that kind is an open invitation to any spirit to do anything it chooses in the life of the recipient.

And, of course, the fruit of the Holy Spirit does not come from “these experiences” but from the daily sanctification by the Holy Spirit through obedience to the Word (John 14:15, 21, 23-26; 15:1-7, 10, 14-15). Once again Alpha participants are not being warned of the very serious dangers of accepting anything and everything from anyone and everyone. So they will walk out of the cocoon of Alpha and straight into the path of the adversary the devil [who], as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Ian Lewis was concerned, regarding this talk, that “The emphasis on technique rather than faith in these areas seems to me to be less than helpful, and fails to address these issues in their true biblical context” [Ian Lewis, Evangelicals Now, 1995].

F. WHAT ABOUT THE CHURCH?

White Alpha training manual, pp63-68, Talk 14

1. Romanism

“The Alpha course is … adaptable across traditions and denominations … I know of its use in Catholic … churches” [Martin Cavender in Telling Others].

“Adaptable” in what sense exactly? Alpha’s publications manager advises that, while presentation of the material can be adapted to suit, the content should be followed exactly. (He makes particular reference to the weekend dealing with the Holy Spirit in this respect) [Christian Herald, 9/Dec/1995]. If the content of the Course teaches the fundamental historical and theological facts and doctrines of the Christian faith as recorded in Scripture, then, having tested and proved that to be so, any Protestant church using Alpha could follow the Course exactly. But could a Catholic church do that?…

Gumbel teaches, from 2 Timothy 3:16, that the Bible is useful for teaching, correcting and rebuking, which of course it is. “It’s how we know if something is wrong. How do we know that what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe is not right? We have to put it alongside the Bible – also the Moonies – and test it. And if you do that, I think you’ll find it’s not consistent with the teaching of the New Testament” [Talk 5].

Protestantism teaches salvation by grace alone through faith alone; Romanism adds to the cross man’s good works and a whole host of other un-Biblical doctrines such as purgatory, penance, transubstantiation, indulgences, prayers to/for the dead/saints, papal infallibility, Mariolatry, sacerdotal mediation etc. etc. So if we “put [Romanism] alongside the Bible” we can see that “it’s not consistent with the teaching of the New Testament”. Romanism falls into the category described by Paul as ‘Judaisers’ (Philippians 3:2-11), who add to the gospel of Christ the works of men (Galatians 3:1-25; Ephesians 2:4-10; Hebrews 9:24-10:18). Romanism bears not a little resemblance to the teachings and works of the Pharisees so scathingly denounced by the Lord in Matthew 23:1-28. It is a false religion that will never relinquish a single one of its unscriptural tenets.

Nevertheless, in section II of this talk, and in Talk 8, Gumbel teaches Alpha participants that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are “totally insignificant compared to the things that unite us … we need to unite around the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus; the absolute essential things at the core of the Christian faith on which we are all agreed. We need to give people liberty to disagree on the things which are secondary”. But it is on the essentials that Protestants and Catholics do not have unity. That was the whole point of the Protestant Reformation. Every one of the Canons anathematizing Protestant doctrine in the Catholic Council of Trent in the 16th Century still stands. In fact, unscriptural doctrines are still being added to the Roman belief system; for example, the doctrine that Mary is co-redemptress with Christ is a recent addition and is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “secondary” issue.

Discussing the price of unity in the Church, Bishop Ryle wrote: “Our noble Reformers bought the truth at the price of their own blood, and handed it down to us. Let us take heed that we do not basely sell it for a mess of pottage, under the specious names of unity and peace” [Warnings to the Churches, 1877, p128].

Still Gumbel says: “We need to unite. There has been some comment which is not altogether helpful to unity. [Ryle’s included?] Let us drop that and get on … the movement of the Spirit will always bring churches together. He is doing that right across the denominations … we are seeing Roman Catholics coming now … People are no longer ‘labelling’ themselves or others. I long for the day when we drop all these labels and just regard ourselves as Christians with a commission from Jesus Christ” [Renewal, May 1995, p16].

‘Labelling’ is a sociological term. In this inclusivist age in which truth is believed to be relative (note the convenient lack of relativism of that particular ‘truth’!) it is used not to define the labellee, but to discredit the labeller. Used in this sense it is as ridiculous to “drop all labels and just regard ourselves [Protestants and Catholics] as Christians” as it would be to refuse to label the jam-pot ‘jam’ and the marmalade-pot ‘marmalade’. A vast number of Catholics have not heard the gospel in their churches and Protestants cannot just assume they are saved.

‘Adaptability’ of the Alpha Course to include Catholics, not necessarily to convert them, is referred to in Alpha as ‘unity’, and I am concerned that Alpha is helping to undo the Protestant Reformation through the promulgation of Ecumenism disguised as Christian Unity.21

2. Unity and false doctrine/teachers

Unity is the keyword of the church growth movement, who would agree with Nicky Gumbel that “a disunited church … makes it very hard for the world to believe” [Renewal, May 1995, p16]. Consequently, “on Alpha, never … criticise … a Christian leader” [Telling Others, p114; and this Talk, section II].

Yet there are times when failure to “criticise” – or rather to rebuke and correct (2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2-5) – is actually to be disobedient to the Word of God. Although in Talk 5 Gumbel only applied the rebuking and correcting to Christian behaviour, it also applies to false teaching.

We are to test all teachings, prophecies and practices against Scripture and judge
whether they are true or false (1 Corinthians 2:15; 16; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1). Far from swallowing everything we are told, however respected the teacher, believers are to test all that passes for doctrine; to correct and rebuke those in error – for their sake! – (2 Timothy 4:2-5), and to disassociate from those who continue to preach false doctrine (Romans 16:17, 18; 2 John 7-11). Jesus, Paul and John all publicly named those who publicly opposed the truth (Matt. 23:1-39; Galatians 2:11-14; 2 Tim. 2:14-26; Titus 1:10-14; 3 John 1:9,10 etc [Matthew 18:15-17 applies to private trespasses]), and we must do the same for the sake of those believers following them.22 Participants of Alpha are not being taught this.

As with JWs, Moonies, and Romanists, so with less obvious heresies and false teachings operating within mainstream Christianity. They are “not consistent with the teaching of the New Testament” and Gumbel is right: “All these heresies, all these cults were around in a very similar form in New Testament times and they [the apostles] dealt with them and the answers are there in the Bible”. Today, however, instead of recognising that, just like the heresies of the 1st Century and the JWs of the 20th Century, these groups are preaching another Jesus, whom we have not preached, we, like the Corinthians to whom Paul was writing here, are welcoming them with open arms.

According to Ephesians 4:3-6, Christian unity comes through our being baptised by one Spirit into One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all. In John 17, Jesus only prayed for the unity of all believers after He had prayed for the sanctification of His disciples by the truth, which He immediately went on to define – for our benefit, not His Father’s – as God’s Word (v17). Shortly before this, Jesus had told His disciples that one of the works of the Holy Spirit was to guide them into all truth (John 16:13-15). So the Holy Spirit unites believers / churches (John 17:23) through God’s written Word (John 16:13; 17:17). Since He does not contradict Himself, there can therefore only be unity within Biblical truth / sound doctrine; there cannot be unity despite Biblical truth / sound doctrine. Those who do not preach or follow the truth, have broken the unity of the believers.23

Unity is also essential to Latter-Rain doctrine, to enable the supposed incarnation of Christ into His physical body (the Church), because He cannot incarnate a divided body, so that the Church may become the ‘Manifest-Sons-of-God’. But Latter-Rain is “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6-7) with a twisted eschatology which is insinuating itself into Charismatic Fellowships these days; one of its most successful routes being the Toronto Blessing.24

It is vital that we earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3). If we do not, we may find ourselves – and those new believers whom we have nurtured – part of the Apostate Church. This is very serious. Christian / Church unity is also essential to the New Age goal of global unity. The Apostate church is the thin end of this wedge; the middle of which is religious inclusivism / syncretism; the wide end being the one-world religion under the control of the False Prophet during the reign of the Antichrist and his one-world government (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Revelation 12-13; Revelation 17-18; Daniel 8-9; Matthew 24:4-5,11).

3. The Parable of the Party

In section IV, Gumbel says the Church, despite being God’s Holy Temple, so often loses “the sense of the presence of God in its midst”. He is making reference here to the Sunday meetings of believers rather than to the Church as the body of Christ, and he uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to explain that Sunday services should be like a ‘party’. “Jesus was saying… the Church is like … a feast and a celebration, and at a party everyone has a good time. There’s fun, there’s laughter … Why shouldn’t there be laughter at the biggest party of all? And that’s what we’re seeing today, laughter and fun, and people getting drunk – not with wine, Paul says ‘don’t get drunk with wine – be filled with the Spirit’, [but see my comments earlier on Ephesians 5] … ‘Come to a party where you can get drunk on God’ … I was at a party like that last night. It was a whole load of church leaders, and we invited the Spirit to come … It was a party thrown by the Holy Spirit … It was a fun place to be. The Church is meant to be a party…. That’s the sort of picture…”

David Noakes writes of his visit to the Toronto Airport Vineyard church: “Luke 15 was brought to us as a Scripture that tells us in these days that God is a God of parties. God is partying. Lots of jokes from a great big fun God. I don’t know what sort of God that is. I haven’t found that God in the Bible. My God is a consuming fire. He’s a God of grace and compassion and love but I don’t trifle with the God I know. I don’t go partying with balloons and fun and jokes and things. When I find God weeping over the state of the Church I can’t go around with balloons in my hand … and yet the Scripture is misused and taken to say this is God; a God of parties. I understand that Scripture as a God of mercy and compassion and forgiveness, always ready to receive back the repentant sinner. I find nothing about God partying. Yes, the celebration was to indicate the greatness of His love and the greatness of the restoration, but it was used [at Toronto] for a totally false purpose” [David Noakes, Dealing with Poison in the Pot, side 1].

The Church will celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb when the Lord Jesus returns, but I too find no references to “fun” or “parties” anywhere in Scripture, except in denunciation. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, for example, Paul reminds the Corinthians of God’s anger toward His people Israel in the wilderness because they did not patiently wait for Moses to return from the mountain, but built themselves a golden calf and held a festival; eating, drinking and indulging in revelry (Exodus 32:1-10). It made no difference to God that the festival was “to the Lord” (v5), or that they had all been freed from Egypt and had all been partakers of the “spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:14). They were still forbidden entrance to the Promised Land. Paul’s point here is to compare the Christian life with the wilderness experience of the people of Israel. We may have left Egypt but we have yet to enter the Promised Land. Until Jesus returns and we attend the marriage feast of the Lamb, there is no place for “parties” or “festivals”; not even “to the Lord”. Rather, we are to be “sober, grave, temperate” (Titus 2:1-13), remembering that true worshippers … worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).25

In the last section of this presentation, Gumbel teaches participants that the Church is the Bride of Christ. He asks: “Are we worthy to be the bride?” Cleansed, restored, and forgiven by the blood of Jesus on the cross, Gumbel says the Church is to be “holy and without blemish”. She is to be “in love with Jesus … One of the things we’ve found in the last few weeks as people have experienced the power of the Spirit … we’re falling in love with Jesus Christ”. Well, feelings of being “in love with Jesus” do not make us holy. Experiences of “the power of the Spirit” do not make us holy. Going to “spiritual parties” to get “spiritually drunk” that we may lose control of our minds and bodies is certainly not the way to holiness. It is through the renewing of our minds, through self-control, through obedience to the truth and through our hope in Jesus Christ that we are made holy (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:14-17; 1 Peter 1:13-2:3).

How true the prophecy uttered in Azusa Street in 1906 has proved to be: “In the last days three things will happen in the Great Pentecostal Movement: There will be an over-emphasis on power, rather than on righteousness; there will be an over-emphasis on praise, to a God they no longer pray to; there will be an over-emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, rather than on the lordship of Christ”.

Are we “worthy to be the bride”?

G. HOW CAN I MAKE THE MOST OF THE REST OF MY LIFE?

White Alpha training manual, pp69-71, Talk 15

I am aware that this title is designed to appeal to the enthusiasm of new converts to continue along the Christian way, but its similarity to the Word-of-Faith prosperity / health and wealth label, which is very much a ‘what’s-in-it-for-me-in-this-world?’ gospel, suggests a way of life that bears no resemblance whatsoever to true discipleship. However, the content of the session belies its title, focusing on Romans 12:1-21, and reminding participants that as “God did not spare His own Son, so it is just a little thing for us to give our lives to God as a living sacrifice”. (Whether participants actually grasp the necessity and ramifications of this is another matter.)

V Eschatology and Church History

The basics of Christian discipleship include an eager expectation of, and preparation for, the return of our Lord Jesus (Matthew 24:1-25, 46; 1 and 2 Thessalonians; Revelation 1-22). However, God’s cry for his People Israel in Hosea 4:6-14 “My people are destroyed for [i.e. through] lack of knowledge” applies no less to His Church, as evidenced in the unquestioning acceptance amongst many Christians of every new ‘shepherd’, ‘prophet’, ‘doctrine’ or spiritual ‘experience’ that comes along. If new disciples are to finish the race that they, and we, have begun (Acts 20:22-24; 1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 5:7-10; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Hebrews 12:1-3), then at least some instruction in eschatology and relevant elements of Church history (persecutions, heresies, the Reformation) would be useful.

VI Conclusion

I believe we have a grave responsibility in these spiritually perilous times to ensure that we do not introduce any teaching into our Fellowships which does not accord with the written Word of God. Any system of instruction should be thoroughly tested in the light of Scripture before being used as a basis for teaching. It is worth considering that, if a formulaic course of talks exists that God wants us to use for evangelism, then He would surely have included this in His Word?!

I don’t think we can compare one sermon, given by a visiting speaker to a Fellowship of believers who are mature enough in the faith to be able to test what is being said and sieve out the dross while holding on to the good, with an entire teaching course of 15 talks given to non-Christians who are completely ignorant of the Word. Also, while we do not know what a visiting preacher will say until he says it, the Alpha videos and training manuals tell us exactly what will be taught. If we run the Course from the videos, we have to use everything that is on them; fast-forwarding the bits we may not agree with is not a practical option. It is also prohibited by HTB! Nor is it enough to say that any errors can be corrected in discussion groups afterwards. Proverbs 22:6 tells us to Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. This applies to children in the faith as much as it does to children in age, and it concerns belief no less than behaviour. We would not deliberately teach our children something we knew was wrong with the excuse that we could correct it later. If we know some teaching is wrong before we teach it, why teach it? Why not just teach what is right to begin with? It may only be parts of Alpha’s teaching which do not accord with Scripture, but I would say with Paul: A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump (Galatians 5:9). Though Paul is talking here of the yeast of the law, the yeast of lawlessness is just as damaging. Ultimately it is not the leaders of Alpha, or anyone else, who will stand responsible before God for the spiritual health of those nurtured in our Fellowships, but we ourselves.

Every Christian, and every Christian Fellowship, is able to witness to the gospel under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It should not be necessary to rely on the methods and techniques of another Fellowship when we have all the instruction and teaching material we need in Scripture, all the experience we need in each of our relationships with the Lord, and each have the capacity to be directed by the Holy Spirit as to how and when to go and do it. Bearing in mind the tendency of Church evangelism today to preach a God of love but not a God of holiness or judgment, and thus to emphasise what we are saved to at the expense of what we are saved from – but this is to re-define the gospel! We have no right to do this.

It is therefore necessary that, in any evangelistic outreach we undertake, we ensure:

A. Non-believing participants have fully understood the meaning of the cross and are saved before being propelled into a course on Christian Living.

B. Converts are fully aware of their conversion experience and are becoming stable in their daily relationship with the Lord before we come onto the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for which they are not yet ready and which could allow into their lives the influence of an alien spirit through ground given, albeit unintentionally.

C. Participants grasp the different role of each Person in the Trinity.

D. The fruit of the Holy Spirit, and His convicting and sanctifying work in a believer’s life, is not submerged beneath the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit.

E. Participants are taught to proceed from the Word to experience, not from experience to the Word; i.e. that they – and we – know the difference between the experience of the Christian life as the daily application of, and obedience to, God’s written Word, and the supernatural experiences (plural) so characteristic of the TB.

F. Participants understand that deception regarding doctrine and supernatural phenomena is Satan’s main weapon against the Church and that knowing, and standing fast in, the Word is our weapon – as it was for Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11).

G. Participants are taught to become Bereans; able to test everything against Scripture for themselves, not relying on leaders, who are not infallible (e.g. Galatians 2:11-14), to do their thinking and living for them. This has been the particular failing of the ‘Heavy Shepherding’ movement within some Charismatic Fellowships during the last 25 years; it has failed to produce Scripture-literate, discerning Christians. Also we must teach them to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

H. I would also strongly recommend revision of the booklist on pp72-75 of the white Alpha training manual as it tends to display a bias towards writers sympathetic to the TB / Restorationist persuasion, while omitting other sound and more obvious choices in several of the sessions. While many good books exist on healing, for example, 2 of the 3 books listed in this section are written by John Wimber.

At least two of the recommended authors for Talk 3 do not agree with the Biblical view of Hell, but prefer the (fundamentally different) idea of annihilation. And while Chasing the Dragon may be an interesting autobiography, it does not claim to be a textbook on the Holy Spirit. It should not be too difficult for any church to compile its own recommended reading list.

In 1877 Bishop Ryle wrote: “The Lord Jesus Christ declares, ‘I will build My Church’ … Ministers may preach, and writers may write, but the Lord Jesus Christ alone can build. And except He builds, the work stands still … Some-times the work goes on fast and sometimes it goes on slowly. Man is frequently impatient and thinks that nothing is doing. But man’s time is not God’s time. A thousand years in His sight are but as a single day. The great builder makes no mistakes. He knows what He is doing. He sees the end from the beginning. He works by a perfect, unalterable and certain plan” [J.C. Ryle, The True Church in Warnings to the Churches, 1877, pp13-14].

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers … Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:42, 47).

ENDNOTES

1. HTB in FOCUS: ALPHA NEWS, Aug 1995, p9.  See also Wallace Boulton, ed., THE IMPACT OF TORONTO, 1995, pp20-24.

2. See Richard Smith, SPIRITUAL DRUNKENNESS: ITS CAUSES, CONSEQUENCES AND CURES, audio tape, I.T.S., 1994/22.

3. Ed Tarkowski, LAUGHING PHENOMENA [sic]: ITS HISTORY AND POSSIBLE EFFECTS ON THE CHURCH, 1995, pp5-6.

4. See, for example: Jack Dunnigan, ‘A Shoppers Paradise’ in PROPHECY TODAY, Nov/Dec 1994, pp10-11; Johannes Facius, ‘Laugh? I Nearly Cried’ in PROPHECY TODAY, May/June 1995, pp24-26; and Intercessors for Britain, ‘Soul or Spirit?’ in TORONTO: BLESSING OR BLIGHT? 1995, pp6-7.

5. This parallel is widely noted; see, for example: David Noakes, REVIEW OF LEADERSHIP CONSULTATION HELD AT BAWTRY, JAN 1995, (Leadership Consultation on the current situation in the Charismatic churches), audio tape CFCM 95/07, Mar 1995, side 1.

6. See, for example: Chris Hand, FALSE FRUIT, audio tape IFB/192, July 1995, side 1.

7. See also David Noakes, audio tape CFCM 95/07, side 1.

8. See, for example: Reachout Trust, GODS OF THE NEW AGE, video tape, 1988; Mick Brown, ‘Unzipper Heaven, Lord’ in SUNDAY TELEGRAPH MAGAZINE, Oct 1994, pp26-30 and subsequent interview ‘What Happened Next? Toronto and the Telegraph Reporter’ in EVANGELICALS NOW, Feb 1995, pp1; Nader Mikhaiel, SLAYING IN THE SPIRIT: THE TELLING WONDER, 2nd edition, 1995; and Philip Foster, SUGGESTIBILITY, HYSTERIA AND HYPNOSIS, 1996.

9. Refer to David Forbes, THE INFLUENCE OF LATTER-RAIN TEACHING ON THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT, audio tape CFCM 95/03.  Also Tricia Tillin, RESTORATIONISM, TORONTO AND THE LATTER-RAIN, 2 audio tapes, 1994.  For teachings of the New Age see, for example: Constance Cumbey, THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF THE RAINBOW: THE NEW AGE MOVEMENT AND OUR COMING AGE OF BARBARISM, 1983. For comparison of New Age with Latter-Rain teachings see, for example: Ed Tarkowski, LAUGHING PHENOMENA, pp25-40.

10. For information on the Kansas City prophets, refer to various audio tapes available from Banner Ministries. For information on the Word-of-Faith movement see, for example, Hank Hanegraaff, CHRISTIANITY IN CRISIS, 1993. Also, various audio tapes available from Banner Ministries.

11. See, for example: Intercessors For Britain, REVIVAL OR SURVIVAL?, 1995.

12. For other relevant information on the Toronto Blessing see: Clifford Hill, ed., BLESSING THE CHURCH? 1995.  Also, Stanley Jebb, NO LAUGHING MATTER, 1995; Leigh Belcham, TORONTO: THE BABY OR THE BATHWATER?, 1995; and Bill Randles, WEIGHED AND FOUND WANTING: PUTTING THE TORONTO BLESSING INTO CONTEXT, 1995.  Also: Articles in editions of MAINSTREAM and PROPHECY TODAY; and various audio tapes available from Banner Ministries.

13. Letter from Board of Vineyard churches to all Vineyard pastors, Dec 1995.

14. See John Goodwin, TESTING THE FRUIT OF THE VINEYARD, 1990, pp8-15.  See also Michael Horton, ed., ‘Power Evangelism’ in POWER RELIGION: THE SELLING OUT OF THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH? 1992, pp61-138.

15. See Wallace Boulton, ed., THE IMPACT OF TORONTO, 1995, p19; also David Noakes, DEALING WITH POISON IN THE POT, audio tape CFCM 95/04, side 1. Johannes Facius, ‘Laugh? I Nearly Cried’ in PROPHECY TODAY, May/June 1995, p25.

16. See Jesse Penn-Lewis, WAR ON THE SAINTS, 1912, pp47-55; and Clifford Hill, ‘The Toronto Blessing: True or False?’ in PROPHECY TODAY, Sep/Oct 1994, pp11-12.

17. See for example: Mike Taylor, ‘The Holy Spirit and the Believer: A Look at the Scriptures’ in MAINSTREAM, Spring 1995, pp6, 9.

18. See, for example: Robert M. Bowman, ORTHODOXY AND HERESY: A BIBLICAL GUIDE TO DOCTRINAL DISCERNMENT, 1993; and J.C. Ryle, WARNINGS TO THE CHURCHES, 1877.

19. During the Leadership Consultation on the current situation in the Charismatic churches, held in January and March 1995 by the Centre for Contemporary Ministry, the following remarks were made concerning the “catch-it-and-pass-it-on” nature of the Toronto Blessing:

“David, you said that William Branham laid hands on people and that was how they received the Spirit, and then they could go and lay hands on people and they would receive the Spirit, and that was how it was passed on. This raises the concept of ‘infection’ and the terms being used in connection with the Toronto Blessing. In the article in the Daily Telegraph, John Arnott was quoted as saying: ‘What we are seeing here is a virus from God. A wonderful, wonderful virus from God’. Now, that jarred with me and I went to the dictionary and looked up ‘virus’ and found four column inches of definition. ‘Virus’ goes back to Latin, Greek and Swahili roots, and there are two meanings of the word ‘virus’. All the meanings, and their derivatives, are placed under these two meanings: One is ‘poison’, the other is ‘venom’, and all those meanings, every single one of them, is based on those two meanings. There is no other meaning of ‘virus’, or its derivative. But you know why people are going to Toronto? They are going to ‘catch’ this thing. That is the term used; so that they can spread it to other people. It’s this concept of infection” [David Forbes, THE INFLUENCE OF LATTER-RAIN TEACHING ON THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT, audio tape, CFCM 95/03, side 2, comments made during discussion group at end of talk].

In contrast, Nicky Gumbel has said: “I have not had the opportunity of meeting any of the people who are supposed to be the roots [of the TB]. We are praying not for the spirit of ‘X’ to fill people, but for the Holy Spirit to fill them. I think it is irrelevant that so-and-so is linked with so-and-so, who once met so-and-so, who was into something that wasn’t very good” [Wallace Boulton, ed., THE IMPACT OF TORONTO, 1995, p83].

The prophet Haggai, however, would seem to warn against this view and show that associations DO matter: “In the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying, If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No. Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean. Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean” (Haggai 2:10-14).

20. See Tricia Tillin, BANNER HEADLINES NEWS UPDATE, BMX22, Dec 1995.

21. See, for example: Stanley Jebb, REFORMATION, RENEWAL, ROMANISM, audio tape. (A warning to Evangelicals / Charismatics about Ecumenism); also J.C. Ryle, WARNINGS TO THE CHURCHES, 1877, and M. De Semlyen, ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME: THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT, 1993.  Also Dave Hunt, ‘Evangelicals and Catholics, Declaration of Unity: The Gospel Betrayed’ in THE BEREAN CALL, May 1994, quoted in MAINSTREAM, Summer 1994, pp10-11.  Dave Hunt, A WOMAN RIDES THE BEAST: THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE LAST DAYS, 1994, chapters 22-28; and various audio tapes available from Banner Ministries. Also the March/April 1996 edition of DISCERNMENT (P.O. Box 129, Lapeer, USA), which focuses on Ecumenism / Church unity.

22. See Tricia Tillin, ‘Thy Word is Truth’ in MAINSTREAM, Winter 1993, p9. Also Robert M. Bowman, ORTHODOXY AND HERESY: A BIBLICAL GUIDE TO DOCTRINAL DISCERNMENT, 1993, pp27-32.

23. See Dave Hunt, BEYOND SEDUCTION: THE RETURN TO BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY, 1987, pp3-4; and J.C. Ryle, WARNINGS TO THE CHURCHES, 1877, pp103-107; 110-112; 127-128.

24. See Tricia Tillin, ‘Birth of the Manchild’ in MAINSTREAM, Spring 1995, pp1-5 for the eschatology being taught at some Vineyard churches, referred to by John Wimber in his letter to Vineyard pastors, Dec 1995, under the heading ‘Other Concerns’.

25. See, for example: Stewart Dool, A TABLE IN THE WILDERNESS, audio tape, Dec 1995. Also Yacov Prasch, THE TORONTO BLESSING IS IT? UNDERSTANDING OF THE GOLDEN CALF, video tape, Moriel Ministries, 1995.

The following short article comprised an Appendix to the original booklet.

Please bear in mind, as you read it, that Nicky Gumbel teaches unbelievers that “the heart of the Christian gospel is this: God loves you” [Talk 1, Edition 2] and “Why did he [i.e. Jesus] die? … The answer, in a nut shell, is because God loves you” [Talk 3, Edition 2].

The gospel of love… or the Gospel of God? by Philip Foster, St. Matthews, Cambridge, May 1996

The book of Acts is the only biblical account of how the apostles preached the gospel. This is important because it is often assumed that the four Gospels and the Epistles are also direct sources of how the gospel message should be preached.

The gospels were written for churches or for people who were already believers, or who had recently believed. They gave information about ‘all that Jesus began to do and to teach…’ As is generally agreed, the gospel of John is to some extent different in that it was written ‘that you may believe and have life in His name’, however the second part of the book (i.e. from Chapter 13 onwards) is intended for the intimate disciples of Jesus.

The Epistles and Revelation were, of course, all written to believers or churches; thus they were not intended as gospel messages. So only Acts can give any idea of the content of gospel messages preached to unbelievers – both Jew and Gentile.

The sermons contained in the book are found in the following Chapters: Acts 2:14-40 (J), 3:12-26 (J), 7:2-53 (J)*, 10:34-43 (G), 13:16-41 (J), 14:15-17 (G), 17:22-31 (G), 22:2-21* (J), 24:10-21*, and 26:2-29*… where ‘(J)’ represents proclamation before a predominantly Jewish audience and ‘(G)’ represents proclamation before a predominantly Gentile audience. Those marked with a ‘*’ represent legal defences before a court.

Briefly, what are the main themes?

That Jesus is Messiah, fulfilling the Law and the prophets. That He was crucified and rose from the dead and that, through repentance, there is forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, for Gentiles: that God is Creator and Judge who now calls all to repent by faith in Jesus.

What is conspicuous by its absence is any mention of the Love of God in these sermons. In fact the word ‘love’ does not occur in Acts!

This is almost a complete reversal of current trends in gospel preaching. These days ‘God loves you’ is more or less where people start! Here sadly is the bad news: that is not the gospel! Sinners are under Wrath. Yes, they are loved by God, but unless they repent and turn to Christ, they remain under Wrath – they will not know that God loves them, indeed they cannot know. Therefore telling them that ‘God loves them anyway’ will lead either to pride (‘I am worth something!’) or dismissal, ‘who cares!’ Frankly, the last thing that middle-class Westerners need to hear is that God loves them! Rather, the reverse is true; that God demands their repentance, for then and only then can they discover that God really does love them.

Even in the gospels, Jesus does not tell sinners that He loves them. (He befriended them, but that is action, not a matter of words.) One interesting example of this point is found in Mark 10:17ff; the story of the rich young ruler. In v21 we readers are specifically told that Jesus loved him. But Jesus never tells him that! When the man goes away sorrowfully, Jesus does not shout out after him, “I love you!”

It is intriguing to note that all other references to love in the gospels are not part of proclamation. (Look them up in the concordance!) Even in the gospel of John, references to the love of God occur very rarely in the record of Jesus’ public ministry; and the majority of these are from Chapter 13 onward, when Jesus is with the twelve disciples.

Earlier references are: John 3:16 (which is either John’s commentary or part of a one-to-one conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, and not therefore public proclamation), John 5:42, John 11:5, 13, 36, and John 12:43. None of these references is directly connected to the message proclaimed.

What then of the stories of the Prodigal son and the Lost sheep? Both have been used as gospel parables, and in a sense they are. However, the context – particularly in the case of the prodigal son – is often not recognised. He is, after all a prodigal son.
In other words, he has a Father before he leaves! This is not true of a Gentile sinner (such as most of us are). We do not start off with God as our Father, wander away, and then get welcomed back! Jesus’ ministry was primarily to the children, the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24 and Mark 6:27 compare also Galatians 2:15). These stories were addressed to Jewish people and were about coming back to God as their Father. We can use them as part of the gospel message, but they are not the main message for Gentiles who are not children of God except by adoption through the cross of Christ.

I have very serious concerns that we evangelicals / charismatics are preaching another gospel, ‘the gospel of love’, rather than the gospel of ‘repent and believe’ – which is the gospel of God.

XV. Does God give us spiritual quick fixes? from
Alpha
… to Omega***

http://www.abcog.org/nh/alpha.htm

Two million or more world wide have ‘done Alpha’.

Will it stick? A good supper, a talk, a group discussion and a ‘Holy Spirit weekend’ – that’s the popular format for the Christian outreach craze that is sweeping Britain and spreading worldwide. It is a ‘relaxed and non-threatening’ introduction to the Christian faith and, according to the British TV series, is a success in ‘changing lives’. The Alpha course has been fulsomely praised by such luminaries as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the late Roman Catholic Archbishop Basil Hume and church leaders from across the Christian spectrum.

The course is running in some 7000 United Kingdom locations and in thousands more worldwide. A million pound plus bill-board campaign to advertise Alpha in the United Kingdom is under way, and there has been wide media exposure. In its London-based `home church’ (the Anglican Holy Trinity Brompton – HTB) up to one thousand young – the average age of participants is twenty-five – and old and from every walk of life enroll for each eleven-week course. Many have little past exposure to Christianity. In view of the decline of religion in Britain (fewer than ten percent visit church), its undoubted success is a surprise.

Participants are exposed to the basics of the Christian faith, with such topics as Who is Jesus?, Prayer, Healing, the Church. Each talk is followed by opportunity for small groups of a dozen or so – one-third of whom are ‘veterans’ of the course – to discuss the current topic, individuals openly expressing opinions and doubts. The format, developed over twenty years, has proven to be a huge success. The Alpha News features accounts of individuals who have ‘found God’ or had their dying faith invigorated.

Critics

Understandably, Alpha has its critics. Some evangelicals are concerned about the ‘loose theology’. In contrast it has been castigated for ‘too high a view of the Bible’! Others are worried that Roman Catholicism is broadly accepted as a legitimate expression of the Gospel. Indeed the course has been sponsored in Catholic churches and run by the local priest – often in co-operation with Protestants and to the chagrin of some evangelicals.

Also criticized is the strong charismatic flavor of the course, especially in its `Holy Spirit week-end’. The HTB has long been associated with the `Toronto Blessing’ and was the focus of media attention when congregants were falling down, quaking, barking like dogs, tongues-speaking, laughing uncontrollably in the aisles etc – supposedly manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

`Converts’ from each Alpha course are directed to `the church of their choice’. Of concern to many is that no distinction is made as to that church’s theology.

Undoubtedly, Alpha is raising the religious consciousness of many who never gave much thought to religion. Jesus Christ is being talked about without embarrassment in offices and banks and building sites – and in churches! Legitimate questions, however, must be asked. A gentle easing into faith may be one acceptable approach to proclaiming the Gospel message. Yet the Christian faith is extremely demanding. Jesus requires total allegiance to him and to the revealed will of God – even to death. He said his message would divide!

It can, too, be legitimately asked if the person and message of Jesus is, in Alpha, accurately presented. We ought to ask with the crowd on the first Christian Pentecost What must we do to be saved? The answer of the truly Spirit-filled apostle Peter: `Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’.

Repentance – change – isn’t an easy option. It certainly involves acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus for our sin. Sin – that’s not often defined. According to John, the `apostle of love’ it is `transgression of the Law [of God)’ (I John 3:4). He adds, `This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments’.

Now that’s hard. For any who would be a disciple of Jesus it means, for example, marriage – and not co-habitation or `free’ sex or a same-sex relationship. It means faithfulness within marriage. It means an end to the idolatry of consumerism and to tax dodging. It means that there is one God who has revealed one weekly day to worship Him – and that’s not Sunday. It means that a Christian abandons the pagan holidays of Christmas and Easter and saints days and mass – and observes God’s festivals. This is the message the first inquirers about Jesus heard and were expected to embrace.

Salvation, of course, can’t be earned by any degree of commandment keeping. We are reconciled to a holy God only through His love and mercy and grace. But, as the apostle Paul wrote: `Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!’ The `Holy Spirit’ – the focus of Alpha – will be given you only if you are in submission to God and His commandments (Acts 5:32).

Alpha To Omega

True Christianity is not a soft option that ignores tough fundamental Bible teaching, as does the Alpha course. It is not a devalued `all for nothing’ faith. Embark on an Alpha course and you may – perhaps – hear a basic introduction to Christianity. But the end – the “Alpha and the Omega” – requires the total dedication to God of every aspect of your life. If you have `graduated’ from an Alpha course, it’s time to take stock. Open your Bible. Check out what you were taught there with the Scriptures. You may now claim Jesus as your Lord – but that is not enough. He said: “Not everyone who says to me `Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven”. And to your religious teachers: “In vain [uselessly] do you worship, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”. Have you just learned `the commandments of men’ – human tradition?

Tradition

Another Bible author, Jude, urged his readers to `contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints’. Any subsequent teaching that conflicts with Scripture – which defines and records that faith for us – is mere human tradition. Like Sunday worship. Or Christmas and Easter and All Saints Day. Or the pagan `immortal soul’ concept. Or going to heaven when you die – or to hell. If an encounter with Jesus through the Scriptures in an Alpha course has `changed your life’ – that’s great! That’s what Christianity is about. Now you need to move on. Study the Scriptures with an open mind. And do what they teach.

XVI. Where Does The ‘Alpha
Course‘ Stand in 2009? Honestly Facing Up To The Inadequacies of ‘Alpha
by Robin A. Brace December 1, 2008

http://www.ukapologetics.net/08/ALPHA.htm

The ‘Alpha Course’ is the course in basic Christianity which has come out of Holy Trinity Church, Brompton Place, London (from now on in this article, ‘HTB’). It is heavily associated with pastor Nicky Gumbel who is a committed charismatic preacher, and a minister of The Church of England. This course has basically operated by sending it’s lectures, study resources and materials out to numerous churches so that ‘alpha groups’ may be set up in numerous areas; the wholly commendable purpose being to lead many to Christ. Once a purely British matter, this study series is no longer confined to British shores but now goes around the world.

There is no doubt that some, probably very many, have come to Christianity through the Alpha Course, however, committed Christians must always monitor all such trends, initiatives and programmes to see what fruits are being produced. Matthew 7:16.

Having said that possibly many have come to Christianity who first started learning its basic truths through courses such as ‘Alpha,’ one would love to know how many such people – five or ten years later – remain committed Christians, but one must suppose that this is a question only too seldom answered.
In the opinion of many, ‘Alpha’ (as written), has carried an immediate flaw which is not too hard to detect; this is in it’s approach to the Holy Spirit; the course is heavily Pentecostal/charismatic in this vital area of teaching, rather than reflecting established Protestant evangelical theology. Generally, the feeling among numerous pastors who have employed this resource has been that ‘Alpha’ is fine but the section on the Holy Spirit needs to be based on a sounder theology and, in fact, many local churches who have used this course have handled that section in their own way (which, we understand, strictly-speaking, breaks ‘Alpha’ rules).

But UK Apologetics does have several serious areas of concern about ‘Alpha’ – areas which we now feel we should address. Several reports have come into us that HTB (again, ‘HTB’ referring to Holy Trinity Church, Brompton Place, London) and ‘Alpha’ now teach the prosperity gospel. We firstly tended to dismiss this since we do know that pastor Nicky Gumbel is often excellent in the general area of Christian Apologetics. Of course his Pentecostal/charismatic approach was known to us, nevertheless we believed that certain extremes of teaching and behaviour associated with what one can only call ‘charismania’ would be wisely avoided by a preacher with such a concern for Christian Apologetics (that is, the defence of the Christian Faith).
Unfortunately our direct approach to HTB in November 2008 for a clarification on this issue was disappointingly unsuccessful (more on that towards the end of this article, which we encourage you to read to its conclusion).

Our Concerns About ‘Alpha’

1.
The ‘Roots’ of Alpha: Experiential, “Prophetic” and Emotional Theology.

Frankly, the roots of this whole approach are highly questionable. ‘Alpha’ really took off around 1990 (although it goes back longer than that, indeed as far back as the late 1970s), but we understand that it was from around 1990 that the course started to be more widely promoted and subsequently widely sent out to other churches as an evangelistic resource; it has been claimed that highly controversial preacher Paul Cain ministered at HTB in 1990. Cain’s mentor was William Branham (1909-1965), sometimes considered to be the ‘father’ of the modern “faith healing movement.” But Branham is now generally regarded with great suspicion, if not regarded as a clearly deceiving teacher by most of conservative evangelicalism. Branham denied the Trinity and was influenced by New Ageism, he also claimed himself to be the ‘angel’ of Revelation 3:14 and 10:7, although some deny that he taught this. He certainly appeared to teach that ‘God wrote three Bibles’ – the zodiac, the pyramids and the written Bible. There is no doubt that spirits appeared to be regularly involved in Branham’s evangelistic life – but which spirits?

Holy Trinity pastor Nicky Gumbel also appears to greatly admire John Wimber (1934-1997). There was much good in Wimber, however, he sometimes employed very questionable practices, he also admired and was influenced by people like Kenneth Hagin and John Loren Sandford. These people have been associated with dangerous and subversive doctrines including, of course, the ‘health, wealth and prosperity gospel’ (‘Word-faith’), and many of their extra-biblical teachings have a very clear New Age base. To be fair, Wimber himself rejected Word-faith theology but he nevertheless believed that signs and wonders should now be a normal occurrence among believers, and was firmly in the ‘prophetic charismatic’ camp (more about that brand of theology later).

In short, the whole foundation of promoting ‘Alpha’ as an introductory Christian course seems to be rooted in emotional and experiential practice and in a world of “prophetic” ministry (see ‘Are There Prophets in Today’s Church?’). At the very least this should mean that ‘Alpha’ must always be closely and constantly monitored.

2. The ‘Holy Spirit’ of Alpha: Insufficiently Grounded in Christ and in the Gospel.

Of course, ‘Alpha’ outlines the Lord Jesus Christ, however, the claim has often been made that whereas the New Testament is ‘Christocentric’ (placing Christ absolutely central in everything), ‘Alpha’ has a focus which is much more on the Holy Spirit, perhaps we could call it ‘pneumacentric.’

The Christian Research Network Journal has stated that,

Alpha’s ‘Spirit’ appears to work in ways that lie outside the confines of Scripture. Whoever it is that people are ‘introduced’ to at the Alpha Weekend, it is not the Holy Spirit. But whoever this mysterious guest is, he is equally at home with the ecstatic gatherings of New Age enthusiasts and non-Christian religions alike.

Alan Howe has further written: “Central to the Alpha Course is not the Christian gospel, but the so-called ‘Holy Spirit Weekend’ which is in fact a thinly-disguised opportunity for initiation into the Toronto Blessing experience. Nicky Gumbel, curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton had received the ‘blessing’ from Eleanor Mumford of the South-West London Vineyard following her return from Toronto in May 1994. Subsequent to this event, Toronto-style teaching concerning the reception of the Holy Spirit took centre-stage. An unknown evangelistic tool had thus become a syncretistic mixture of orthodoxy and heresy.” (The Christian Research Network Journal, Spring 1998).

Certainly the ‘Toronto Spirit Experience’ has been much involved in HTB and at Alpha ‘weekends’ and Gumbel seems to be guilty of teaching an explanation of the Holy Spirit which is much too loose, too experiential and too dangerously vague, whereas the New Testament urges believers to ‘try the spirits’ (1 John 4:1-5). John’s original warning here concerned proto-gnosticism; these people believed that Jesus had not literally come ‘in the flesh,’ but only on the level of an apparition, but today John’s warning, along with all the other New Testament warnings about false teachers, effectively warns us to check out the orthodoxy of all preachers. Isaiah 8:20 points to the ‘law and the testimony’ as the yardstick for all preachers. Where do such preachers stand on the The Apostle’s Creed and the other great creeds of the Faith? Biblically, the Holy Spirit magnifies Christ – but not Himself – but in ‘Alpha,’ the Holy Spirit sometimes seems to be doing ‘his own thing.’ Some of those who have been involved with HTB and ‘Alpha’ claim that they have felt a force, or an unseen power, impelling them to do some very strange and even unchristian things, such as laughing uncontrollably. All responsible Christians – at length – must surely question such things in order to evaluate the fruits of a movement.

The aforementioned CRN Journal attributed this quote to Gumbel, “Sometimes, when people are filled, they shake like a leaf in the wind. Others find themselves breathing deeply as if almost physically breathing in the Spirit… Physical heat sometimes accompanies the filling of the Spirit and people experience it in their hands or some other part of their bodies. One person described a feeling of ‘glowing all over.’ Another said she experienced ‘liquid heat.’ Still another described ‘burning in my arms when I was not hot.'”

Surely we must be very alert to the dangers of allowing feelings, frenzies, tingles, sensations and subjective impressions take over from sound, logical teaching and an acceptance of such when in a clear and controlled state of mind? What did Paul the Apostle write to Timothy on that matter?

‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ (2 Timothy1:7).

In complete contrast to that, several have informed us of a real fear to attend Pentecostal and charismatic services because of deeply disturbing and frankly weird ‘strange manifestations.’ Some who have come through ‘Alpha’ tell us that they were encouraged to seek guidance through visions, voices and dreams. This, of course, is monumentally irresponsible and dangerous, but one never knows just who might be lecturing at any point and, in fairness, the organizers of ‘Alpha’ cannot always control everything.

3. Alpha is Too Worldly.

Whereas the New Testament appears to encourage Christian believers to put a certain separation between themselves and the world, in other words, to avoid ‘worldliness’ (James 2:1-7; 4:4-6; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, for instance), ‘Alpha’ seems pretty much disinterested in that.

In fact, a chief criticism of the course and of HTB is that they readily buy into modern and popular concepts of pseudo-spirituality, much of it seemingly New Age influenced.

Moreover, ‘Alpha’ publications never seem to present some sort of consistent doctrine of God, with virtually nothing about the attributes of God, His character, His omnipresence or His personhood. Now it is true that Jesus should be our starting point, nevertheless, in a society which is often obsessed with “spirituality,” but with no real understanding of it, surely more should be clearly stated on this topic in order to avoid confusion and in order to avoid New Age contamination. Overall ‘Alpha’ does seem to lean toward a mystical and undefined view of God.

So ‘Alpha’ seems to be very affected by the modern concern for enjoyable and experiential living with a suspicious concern for experiencing one’s ‘whole personhood.’ The situation of Mankind as being in a state of ‘fallenness’ until receiving redemption in Christ is also largely missing from this system of teaching; Indeed, it has been claimed that, “the plight of man in ‘Alpha’ is not as serious as in the Bible,” again this seems to be a very fair critique. Alpha understands and teaches sin much more as something which can be seen in the way we have ‘messed up our lives,’ or caused ourselves ‘needless misery and unhappiness.’ Yet the Holy Bible teaches sin as being a very grievous matter which made the sacrifice of Christ necessary. It would probably be unfair to state that ‘Alpha’ never touches on this at all, yet the balance is certainly wrong – much too anthropocentric, especially in a highly irreligious, anthropocentric and materialistic modern age. In ‘Alpha’ one does not feel too bad about oneself for too long; this may be contrasted with the complete ‘brokenness’ which repentant sinners experienced during the great revivals when confronted with the reality of sin. Indeed, having mentioned ‘repentance,’ that appears to be a much lighter thing in ‘Alpha’ than in the New Testament and in more established Protestant evangelical theology.

4. Alpha is ‘Prophetic charismatic’ and ‘Triumphalist’ in Theology.

Again, if one should quickly refer back to our first point of considering the ‘roots,’ or foundation of Alpha, this is exactly what one might expect.

Apologist Hank Hanegraaff’s appraisal of this form of theology goes like this: “Leaders of the Counterfeit Revival demand the Kingdom now! — in this life, with all of its attendant material wealth, public accolades, physical health, and earthly power.” (Counterfeit Revival, pg. 108, Dallas: Word Publishers, 1997).

Now we must understand that the New Testament does indeed teach that Christians enter God’s kingdom even in this life, however, the dramatic and supernatural manifestations of this were only granted to the original Apostles and possibly to certain others of God’s choosing (not ours!). The reader is strongly encouraged to read ‘What are the Signs of an Apostle’?. This approach has been widely accepted by Protestant and Orthodox theology alike because it is what many hundreds of years of Christian life and experience have taught us. So whilst the New Testament teaches that Christians enter God’s kingdom in this very life, all the fullest and greatest manifestations of that kingdom are reserved for the life to come, that is, Eternal Life.

In contrast, ‘prophetic charismatic’ triumphalist theology tells us that we can tap into these things right now as long as we have sufficient faith (‘faith’ frequently being defined differently to the biblical definition – see ‘All About Faith; What Is It? What Isn’t It?’). This theology only arose in the United States of the 19th century. This new brand of theology led to the appearance of numerous “prophets.” One especially consistent characteristic of the new prophets was (and is) their insistence that the New Testament prophets do not have to be subjected to the ‘genuine prophet’ tests of Deuteronomy (13.1-3 and 18.22). The 20th century saw this movement develop even further through the activities of people like William Branham, the ‘Kansas City Prophets,’ and many others. ‘Word-faith’ is also of this lineage through teachers like E.W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin and numerous others. John Wimber of the Vineyard Movement too was very typical. Current preachers such as Paul Cain and Benny Hinn (both very high-profile and extremely controversial), as well as Joyce Meyer and Creflo Dollar stand securely in this theological lineage. This theological approach, of course, stood at the very centre of both Pentecostalism and the successive ‘waves’ of the charismatic movement.

Much within ‘Triumphalist’ theology is based on Mark 16:15-20 and John 14:12, so let us give some consideration to these scriptural texts:

a. Mark 16:15-20.
First of all, the Mark 16 passage has been very hotly disputed as to its authenticity. The problem is that most of the more reliable and older biblical manuscripts do not even contain these words. The most reliable texts only go to Mark 16:8, which is why verses 9-20 are not even included in some Bibles, yet it has long been established that Christian doctrine should always be established upon strong and corroborated biblical references. There seems little wrong with most of the verses from Mark 16:9-20, however, verses 17-18 do present a problem and it is foolish for any of us to deny this, yet these verses are vital to ‘Kingdom Now’ teaching. The first part of verse 18, for example, states this as a sign which would follow the Apostles,

‘They will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all;’ (Mark 16:18a, NIV).

Again, perhaps a little strange, however, if these verses are authentic they would still only apply to the original Apostles (Mark 16:14).

b. John 14:12.


The concept that the “greater works” which Jesus promised His disciples would do (after His ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit) simply refers to the miraculous and the supernatural (a central plank of ‘Kingdom Now’ theology), will not stand up on any semantic ground whatsoever. As Dr. Harry Ironside has well pointed out:

“When you realize that when Jesus left this scene, committing His gospel to a little group of eleven men in order that they might carry it to the ends of the earth, at that time the whole world, with the exception of a few in Israel, was lost in the darkness of heathenism. But in three hundred years Christianity closed nearly all the temples of the heathen Roman Empire, and numbered its converts by millions. These were the greater works, and down through the centuries He still carries on this ministry.”
(Harry Ironside, Addresses on The Gospel of John. Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1984, pg. 619).

But we have a separate article which considers the message of John 14:12 in much more depth and detail here.

The UK Apologetics Attempt to Obtain Clarification From Pastor Gumbel

As briefly mentioned earlier, following several reports to us that HTB now teach the ‘prosperity gospel,’ UK Apologetics attempted to obtain a clarification on this issue from pastor Nicky Gumbel in late November, 2008. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful. Our e mail was answered by a lady who, apparently, is ‘Executive Assistant to Reverend Nicky Gumbel.’ In answer to our frank question regarding whether HTB now preach the ‘prosperity message,’ this lady’s response was, very simply,

“… I have never heard Nicky preaching such a message.”

Since we felt that this was a wholly inadequate reply to a genuine enquiry, we e mailed back in the following manner,

“Look I don’t blame you personally because you are perhaps very busy, however, with respect, this was not a very good response….surely this should be put in front of Nicky for a much fuller response??”

The final response which we received from HTB was this (highly defensive) message:

“Many things are attributed to Nicky which are not true and he feels it best to stand by what he has written. In his book ‘Challenging
Lifestyle‘, he has a chapter on ‘How to Give’ and one on ‘How to Handle Money’. These two chapters best represent Nicky Gumbel’s position…”

We were a little disappointed that pastor Nicky Gumbel himself apparently did not see fit to directly reply to us, but, there again, it is possible that he was outside of the country at the time. Our final response to HTB was,

“Thank you for your comments. I don’t entirely blame you but this remains a very unsatisfactory response overall. You are referring us to a 2001 book to see where Nicky and HTB currently stand on a particularly serious matter within modern evangelicalism. I am going to get a copy of the book and look it up and write an entire article on ‘Alpha’ and where things currently stand. I must confess that we have major concerns in several areas of Alpha teaching. Thanks anyway. Robin. UK Apologetics.

The Alpha Approach to Prosperity and Giving Based on ‘Challenging Lifestyle’

I have now obtained the recommended Nicky Gumbel book and carefully perused the two chapters, one titled, ‘How to Give,’ the second called, ‘How to Handle Money.’ These chapters are very fine Christian mainstream teaching on Christian stewardship and responsibility. If I had written these myself, I don’t think I would have stated anything differently; the words ‘tithe’ and ‘tithing’ do not occur anywhere and there is certainly no evidence of ‘positive confession.’ This book, however, was first printed in 1996 and the difficulty which I have is that when UK Apologetics were told that the prosperity message was now in HTB, and ‘Alpha,’ this was only around one year ago (2007).

This book also operates at a very basic level with an assumption that the reader is new to Christianity; it seems, therefore, that if the prosperity message occasionally occurs at HTB, it would not be included in such a very basic-level book!

I am naturally very reluctant to think that Pastor Gumbel’s executive assistant had purposely sent me in the wrong direction, but I do wonder a little about this. Certainly, on the basis of this, Nicky Gumbel himself does not preach the prosperity message. But I would just say that if HTB operate within the world of ‘triumphalist’ theology (which they certainly do), then various guest preachers at HTB could still preach the prosperity gospel, and very possibly do, even if Nicky Gumbel himself does not. This is as much as one can say.

Conclusion

We would never claim that ‘Alpha’ has never done any good, indeed, it is unquestionable that many have come to Christianity who were first introduced to its basic doctrines and teachings through this course. The course has now achieved great popularity – this is very commendable indeed, and Holy Trinity Church, Brompton Place, London, deserve congratulations for what they have accomplished.

UK Apologetics, however, would respectfully suggest to pastor Nicky Gumbel that it is surely time that this course moved on in order to reflect a more mature, and less naive, Christian theological approach. One is encouraged that the pastor has always stated that the course is not above future revision, therefore, with Christian love and concern, we would suggest the urgent revision of this course. In particular, we would encourage the teaching on the Holy Spirit within the course to more fully reflect New Testament teaching, removing it from any mystical or New Age associations, and from any concept of an immature seeking of the sensational.

In our humble opinion, this needs to be accompanied by a thorough revision of ‘Alpha’s underlying ‘Triumphalist’ theology with a return to a more established evangelical Protestant approach. In this area ‘Alpha’ should surely feel a responsibility to a wider theology, that is, the theology of our fathers who established Protestantism. This is not to say that the course should be a strictly Reformed (Calvinist) course – far from it! Rather, that it would only be beneficial for it to have a wider grounding than in a comparatively narrow theological approach which came out of the 19th century United States.

Finally, we would suggest a much firmer control in areas such as ‘Alpha weekends’ and in the way individual lectures are handled, with elements of hyper-emotionalism and ‘charismania’ ruled firmly ‘out of bounds.’ Some of the claims of excessive behaviour which have come into us are probably beyond the control of HTB, therefore, again, we would encourage stronger and firmer recommendations from ‘Alpha’ regarding the suitability of those who conduct these lectures within local congregations.

At this moment we feel that Christianity Explored (very similar to ‘Alpha’ in certain ways but stronger on the Holy Spirit), is a better and far more biblical course; however, we do not think that that course is without faults either.

XVII. A Tale Of Two Cities – ROME AND TORONTO***

http://www.christian-witness.org/archives/van1997/alpha1_97.html

http://www.christian-witness.org/archives/van1998/alpha2_98.html

XVIII. Nicky Gumbel Alpha Course and The Pope***

http://girdedwithtruth.org/2009/06/30/nicky-gumbel-alpha-course-and-the-pope/

XIX. Alpha Course: Alpha – Its Unbiblical Theology***

http://kittykit.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/alpha-course-alpha-its-unbiblical-theology/

XX.
The
Dangerous
Deceptions
of
Dr. Nicky Gumbel
and
The Dangers of the

Alpha Course
***

http://www.firstplumbline.net/html/drnickygumbal.html

About Dr. Nicky Gumbel

The main aim of this page is to look at what is Alpha, were it came from, and who funds it.
What is Alpha?

What is behind the Alpha Course?

Who is behind Alpha Course?

Alpha’s Road Leads To Rome.

Alpha speaker Nicky Gumbel was presented to the Pope in February as the course continues to spread through the Catholic church.

The Alpha Course: Is It Bible-Based Or Hell-Inspired?

VISIT TO HOLY TRINITY BROMPTON.
Mind Science and The Alpha Course.
The Alpha Course Financial Reports.

Alpha – the unofficial guide.

Alpha – the unofficial guide: World?

The following articles are from Dusty Peterson. Dusty has been doing extensive research on Alpha Course and the dangers behind Dr. Nicky Gumbel’s Course.

The Powers Behind the Alpha Course
Part 1: The Powerful Message.
Part 2: The Powerful Men.

Part 3: The Powerful Spirit.


The Powers Behind Alpha, Vineyard, and the “TB” (Chart) (PDF version)

The Powers Behind Alpha, Vineyard, and the “TB” (Chart) (GIF version)
The Powers Behind Alpha, Vineyard, and the “TB” (Supporting Documentation)


Chapter and Verse on Alpha’s Jesus

Part 1: The Character of Alpha’s Jesus.

Part 2: The Nature of Alpha’s Jesus.

Part 3: The Divinity of Alpha’s Jesus.


Open Letters to the Leaders of the Alpha Course

1st Open Letter – Alpha’s ‘Holy Spirit Retreat’.

2nd Open Letter – Your Understanding of ‘Toronto’.


Material for Pre-Millennialists

Alpha on Israel!
Alpha – New Life or New Lifestyle?

XXI. The Alpha Course experience

http://www.iawwai.com/Alpha.htm

XXII. THE ALPHA COURSE

http://www.angelfire.com/ky/dodone/Alpha.html

ORIGIN AND HEADQUARTERS: HOLY TRINITY BROMPTON, LONDON (CHURCH of ENGLAND)

This is a well known extreme charismatic church, and a centre of the ‘Toronto Blessing’ phenomenon. The Rev. Sandy Millar is the vicar of Holy Trinity (HTB as it is known) and is a popular speaker on the charismatic/renewal events circuit.

The Alpha Course was started at the end of the 1970’s in the above church by Charles Marnham as a series of talks on the basics of Christianity. Over the years it was led by a number of different people until the Rev. Nicky Gumbel (also of Holy Trinity) took charge in 1990 and revamped it. It has grown rapidly and is now widely used in churches, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, in the UK and overseas.

The first U.K. Roman Catholic Alpha conference was held in May in London’s Westminster Cathedral. It was led by Sandy Millar and Nicky Gumbel themselves, with the blessing of Cardinal Basil Hume. There are others arranged. Many ‘Christian’ bookshops have become official Alpha stockists, selling a variety of books, audio and visual cassettes, and manuals. Also available are the usual array of T-shirts and car stickers. The latest gimmick is an Alpha Course cookery book!

 The course lasts for 10 weeks and includes a weekend called the ‘Holy Spirit Weekend’. It is designed to be a non-threatening/user-friendly introduction to the ‘Christian’ faith. In reality it is a socialising and networking method of spreading a charismatic gospel. Note the following revealing words of Sandy Millar:-

“By taking account of literally thousands of questionnaires, the Alpha Course has been adapted and improved so it is truly moulded to the perceived and experienced needs of this generation.”

The Alpha Course fits in easily with many other reaching and evangelism courses run by a plethora of new evangelical charismatics. The general concept seems to be

(1) bring people into the circle of the church (any denomination will do) using any means (worldly or otherwise)

(2) water the message down to cross denominational and cultural barriers and

(3) make the ‘Christian’ lifestyle inviting and exciting. To quote Sandy Millar again:-

“Stripping the gospel down to its bare essentials, it (the Alpha Course) makes Christianity accessible to men and women of today’s culture.”

As is the norm in charismatic circles, everything in the Alpha Course is underpinned by the teaching and promoting of Pentecostal/charismatic gifts and experiences. This is obviously the reason for the ‘Holy Spirit Weekend’, described in the Alpha Introduction newspaper as a “crucial element of the course”.

In the Alpha Team Training Manual we read the following instruction:-

“Stay facing the person you are praying for and ask the Holy Spirit to come. Welcome Him when you see signs of His working and wait on God as you pray for further direction. Encourage the person to start to speak in another language – tell him/her you will do so yourself.”

In the Alpha Youth Manual under the section on the gift of tongues there is instruction on ‘How to get it’ (the gift of tongues). Part of the instruction is “Ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit … co-operate – open your mouth.”

The following extract from the book ‘The Collection’ published by HTB is from a sermon by the Rev. Sandy Millar and indicates how dangerous is the Alpha Course, and how extreme are the charismatic views of the man—

“Alpha is a work of the Spirit and like most other works of the Spirit, it takes time for the fruit to grow. Of course, some of the manifestations may be of the flesh. Occasionally (but in our experience, it is much rarer than people might think) some may be of the devil … The manifestations vary from time to time. I think it was John Wimber who was quoted as saying that if the price we pay for all this increase in the fruit of the Spirit is an occasional ‘moo’, it is a price worth paying.”

 The Alpha Course cannot be separated from extreme charismatic beliefs and behaviour (such as the Toronto Blessing). To quote Nicky Gumbel himself.- “I believe it is no coincidence that the present movement of the Holy Spirit (Toronto Blessing) has come at the same time as the explosion of the Alpha Courses.

I think the two go together.” (RENEWAL, May 1995, p 15.) Sadly, the abundance of books, tapes, videos, courses etc. by false teachers is rapidly undermining the understanding of what is the true gospel of grace. Many once sound churches and fellowships are abandoning the good ground of gospel truth, and embracing error. As the deceptions of the last days multiply, it behooves every truly born-again believer to stand fast, and oppose the error and danger of ecumenical charismatic evangelism in whichever form it may appear. Many charismatic leaders mix a little truth with their error, but this is Satan’s way of deception, and should not be used as an excuse to support such people, or to give any credibility to their teaching.

To conclude, the Alpha Course is definitely not a series of sound Bible studies, or talks to teach true Biblical Christianity, and to point the way of salvation. It is most definitely a cleverly thought out way of promoting ‘another gospel’.

(From Olive Tree Missions, 91 Donegall Park Avenue, Belfast BT15 4FQ)

From the Roman Catholic ECI Newsletter, April 1998. “Another example of the Holy Spirit’s work is the Alpha Bible Study Courses that are spreading throughout Ireland.” The same newsletter has the heading “The Alpha Course in Ireland – Key Tool for Catholic Renewal.”

It further states, “while Alpha is not a complete exposition of Catholic doctrine, it doesn’t contain anything that is contrary to Catholic doctrine.” (Copied from Ulster Bulwark, July/August 1998.)

TWO REVIEWS OF ALPHA BY “CHURCHMOUSE”

Alpha Course: truth or error?

http://churchmousec.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/alpha-course-truth-or-error/
March 10, 2010

Churchmouse Campanologist supports orthodox Christianity in Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches.

During the 1990s, the then-new Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, declared it the Anglican Decade of Evangelism.  The jewel in the crown of this decade was a new programme called the Alpha Course.

I remember receiving a call from a lady at our church in the mid-1990s.  ‘Won’t you come join us?  It will be a wonderful evening and you can make new friends.’   It was tempting to ask, ‘Aren’t you a bit old to be taken in by this?’  I was still a bit vexed that fripperies like the Toronto Blessing had been all over the news in Britain just a couple of years before in 1994.  It looked absurd and, as I told Spouse Mouse then, it would contribute to the downfall of the Church.  Well, most people in Britain now think that any Christian is a hysterical, Bible-brandishing loony who has lost his intellectual capacity to reason.

But this weird and wonderful new initiative of the Anglican Church persisted and Alpha was the result.  Alpha became a household word nearly 20 years ago, but it was around long before that.  It started at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in London in 1979 by the Reverend Charles Marnham as an introduction to Christianity for enquirers.  It would be held in a ‘relaxed and informal setting’.  In 1990, Marnham’s colleague, the Reverend Nicky Gumbel, a former barrister who discovered Jesus and sought ordination, took over the Alpha Course at HTB.  Gumbel’s way with words, befitting an attorney who argues cases in court before a judge, was a star turn.  The church was soon drawing middle-class people from all over London.  Many had good-paying jobs with long hours in the City.  Others were lost and trying to cope with personal issues.  Some had no faith at all but felt the need to know more about Christianity.

So, what happened that made it so successful?

It was while leading his second Alpha course that Nicky made a discovery, which transformed the church’s whole approach to the course and gave it a new dynamic. As he looked around the 13 members of his ‘small group’, he realized to his surprise that apart from the three Christian helpers, all the other 10 members of the group were non-churchgoers. “They had all the normal objections: ‘What about other religions?’; ‘What about suffering?’, and so on – and we had a stormy first six weeks,” he said. Then they went away on the weekend and all 10 announced their Christian conversion together.

The experience transformed Nicky’s thinking about Alpha. He realized how this simple course in basic Christianity could become a powerful medium for evangelism. He quickly worked to give the course the kind of ‘feel’ that would be particularly attractive to non-churchgoers.

At HTB, attendees meet in the evenings at church for dinner, then hear a talk about the designated topic.  They then break out into small groups for further discussion, asking questions or expanding on how particular New Testament passages or stories impact their personal lives.

In smaller parishes, Alpha is held at someone’s home.  A potluck dinner is shared, then the talk and discussion follow.  Nicky was careful to make it clear that:

… no question should be treated as too trivial, threatening or illogical. Every question would be addressed courteously and thoughtfully – and none would ever be ‘pestered’ if they chose not to continue with the course.

Nicky Gumbel explains: “It’s all friendship-based. There’s no knocking on doors – it’s friends bringing friends.”

And this is how it came to be marketed in churches. By the time the Millennium approached, the Alpha Course had spread from Britain to other countries in the English-speaking world.  By the end of 2001, total worldwide Alpha attendance had reached 3.8 million people.

I’ve seen three documentaries — each with several episodes — on the Alpha Course.  No Biblical inerrancy is affirmed and no Church history is presented, but there is much which is experiential and emotional.  This is what concerns me and those who have delved deeper into the course.

A number of prominent church organisations and clergy heartily endorse the Alpha Course. Among them are Rick Warren, the Salvation Army, the Revd J I Packer of Regent College and evangelist Luis Palau. And Alpha can be adapted for any church, including Catholic parishes. Surely that’s a good thing, you say.  Don’t forget that good people can sometimes get subsumed by the wrong thing in the right package.

Those taking Alpha are strongly encouraged to commit not only to weekly attendance over several weeks but to a weekend retreat near the end of the course. Sometimes this retreat is described as the ‘Holy Spirit Weekend’. Attendees are encouraged to welcome the Holy Spirit into their hearts and lives through a charismatic experience.  Ideally, everyone has one of these experiences before the weekend is over.  It is seen as a sign of conversion and being born again.  If this sounds a bit like the Toronto Blessing, you would not be wrong.

Understand the Times explains the link between the two in ‘Alpha: Another Road to Rome?

… the effectiveness of the course was not realized until a few years later after the “Toronto Blessing” was transported to England from Canada in May of 1994. It was then that Church leaders of Holy Trinity Brompton received a dose of the “blessing” through Elli Mumford who had just returned from Toronto.  

On May 24, 1994, Elli Mumford met with several leaders of Holy Trinity Brompton. As Mumford prayed at this meeting, the “transferable blessing” from the Toronto Airport Vineyard was manifest.  Sandy Millar, the highly regarded vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, decided that Elli would preach the following Sunday morning. After giving her testimony about her ‘Toronto experience,’ Elli asked the congregation to stand while she prayed the Lord would bless and give them all He had.  Immediately people began to laugh hysterically, weep, shake, jerk, bark and roar.

So, it’s possible to ‘transfer’ a Charismatic blessing from one church and one person to another? Hmm.

Cephas Ministry, which has researched Alpha, asks ‘Is It the Final Answer or a Fatal Attraction?’:

Addressing Alpha Deficiencies, Alan Howe informs us: “Central to the Alpha Course is not the Christian gospel, but the so-called ‘Holy Spirit Weekend’ which is in fact a thinly-disguised opportunity for initiation into the Toronto Blessing experience … An unknown evangelistic tool had thus become a syncretistic mixture of orthodoxy and heresy.”

In Alpha Shake and Bake, [G. Richard] Fisher stated, a close look at the words of Nicky Gumbel, a former atheist, as quoted by the Christian Research Network Journal, show the real direction of the Alpha Course. Gumbel unashamedly is trying to move people into esoteric experiences, altered states of consciousness, self-hypnosis and mindless emotionalism and then tell his followers it is all of God. Gumbel uses “God’s words” to move people toward the ultimate end which is hysteria, loss of control and mindlessness.

And what happens if you cannot have this ‘experience’? As early as 1996, when Alpha was taking off nationwide in Britain, The Times (London) reported:

A woman has walked out of her church and is holding services in her living room, because she says she cannot bring herself to “snort like a pig and bark like a dog” on a Church of England course. Angie Golding, 50, claims she was denied confirmation unless she signed up for the Alpha course, which she says is a “brainwashing” exercise where participants speak in tongues, make animal noises and then fall over.

She has left the evangelical St Marks in Broadwater Down, Kent, with 14 members of the congregation and founded a church at home in Tunbridge Wells. She said: “I’ll be a fool for the Lord any day, but I won’t be a fool for man.”

Deception in the Church, in an article entitled ‘The Dangers of the Alpha Course’, points out:

The men who designed this course are laying error alongside truth, introducing error secretly (“pareisaxousinin” in Greek) the result of which will ruin the faith of the believer in the end …

Perhaps the preachers and evangelists who have endorsed this course need to take a longer look at their Bibles. Jesus NEVER laid hands on his disciples, the result of which were “manifestations” of uncontrollable laughter, mayhem, shaking, animal noises, vomiting, or any of the other demonic disorder of the Toronto and Brownsville “things”.

In the documentaries I’ve seen, not everyone has a charismatic experience.  Sometimes, one or two people leave the course at the weekend when things get too weird.  They also tend not to return to church.

Even for those who stay the course, as it were, only half or slightly more than half decide to seek baptism or church membership.  Those who walk away say that Alpha has been a useful experience and has helped them gain a better perspective on their lives.

Those who walk away with nothing understandably think that Alpha is presenting the true God, the true Bible, the true Church, the true Jesus.   It’s a crying shame.

Tomorrow: Alpha’s brand of Jesus

For more information, see:

Millions take Alpha Course
http://members.ozemail.com.au/~rseaborn/millions_take_alpha_course.html

Alpha: Another Road to Rome?
http://www.understandthetimes.org/commentary/c15.shtml
See pages 47-49

The Alpha Course: Is It the Final Answer or a Fatal Attraction?
http://newsletters.cephasministry.com/alpha_fatal_attraction.html
See pages 60-65

The Dangers of the Alpha Course
See pages 34-35

Alpha‘s brand of Jesus

http://churchmousec.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/alphas-brand-of-jesus/
March 11, 2010

A Protestant marriage counsellor whom I know says that the Alpha Course can make people overly hopeful about situations in their lives which cannot be overcome. One of these is Alpha’s tendency to say that much can be healed through prayer. He knows of a couple where the wife attended Alpha and kept praying for her troubled marriage to be healed. ‘It didn’t work’, my friend said. ‘In the end, we had some time convincing her that there would be no chance of reconciliation. Her husband had been clinically diagnosed as being mentally ill, and prayer was not going to heal him or their marriage. What prayer can do, however, is help her to cope with divorce and to start over again.’

We saw yesterday that Alpha relies upon charismatic techniques such as speaking in tongues. It also relies on healing through prayer. Recall that this course started out as one for enquirers into Christianity. Now it appears to attempt to heal the broken. There’s nothing wrong with peace of mind through prayer, which is one of the purposes of petitioning God for His help, but when people have the impression that, if they only prayed more or ‘better’, their problems would be solved, well, there’s another story altogether. That’s not necessarily Alpha’s fault, but the lady above is probably not the only one with unrealistic expectations of life as a result of taking the course. And therein lies the danger in presenting the Bible whilst discarding truth for the experiential.

Alpha publicity lists questions that its courses will answer. They are all good and include:

Is there more to life than this?

Who is Jesus?

Why did Jesus die?

How can I have faith?

A Summer 1996 issue of Mainstream
describes where these questions lead with Alpha:

Alpha certainly starts by preaching the gospel; the first three talks on Video One focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the three talks on video Two which cover fundamental steps for new Christians … But as the course progresses, some of the talks tend to wander off into lengthy accounts of HTB’s experiences of the Toronto Blessing and associated ministries, novel exegeses of various Biblical passages common amongst pro-Toronto preachers, calls for unity despite truth and an over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit, all of which are less than helpful, to say the least, to potential Christians.

All this progresses towards the Holy Spirit Weekend:

Alpha participants are being taught all this as part of an evangelistic/Christian Living course as though it is normal and desirable, with absolutely no mention made of the need to test the spirits (1 John 4:3), and at the end of this talk are prayed for, corporately, to receive it. Thus, they are initiated into the Toronto Blessing without a whimper of protest amongst them.

Also part of the Toronto Experience is its Power Evangelism. Now, it’s great bringing all kinds of Christians together in fellowship and encouragement. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than when Christians from a variety of denominations comment on Churchmouse Campanologist posts. However, as we saw with last year’s Manhattan Declaration, there are limits to unity based on doctrine and Biblical teachings.

Many Christians did not sign the Manhattan Doctrine because they believed it affirmed too great a commingling of beliefs, some of which they believe are erroneous or, even worse, heretical.

Yesterday’s post mentioned that Alpha can be tailored for all denominations, including the Catholic Church. In 2000, the Revd Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in London — the man who took Alpha international and interdenominational — met with Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Household.

This was part of an initiative to bring Alpha to the Catholic Church and to foster a dialogue between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants.  Mainstream notes this coming together of seemingly disparate beliefs and asks:

So where will this lead in the future? Will the Alpha evangelization program that is embraced by Rome bring people to a true understanding of the simple gospel? The facts seem to indicate there may be some confusion. A Christianity that focuses on Mary, the saints, or the sacraments and not on Jesus, is foreign to the Bible.

And, conversely, Catholics are concerned that Alpha will be too ProtestantCharismatic Heresy, a site which exposes teachings contrary to those of the Catholic Church, says:

Dissent is a widespread problem in the Catholic Church. What the ALPHA convert will do is bring the ALPHA heresies into the Church. Who will correct him? Would it not be simpler for people to start out the right way without having to unlearn errors? … What is the use of introducing complex spiritual topics to people who wrestle with basic concepts about God? There are some glowing reports by some bishops how great ALPHA has been as an evangelizing tool. What do these bishops really want, filling the churches with Catholics in name only or having smaller churches with real converts? If we cannot get them without the ALPHA program, common sense would dictate to leave them where they are. That would be better for all concerned.

Which brings me to my next point: how are God, Jesus, the Cross and the Resurrection presented in Alpha?  Many have criticised the course for favouring the Holy Spirit over God and Jesus Christ.

– Mainstream says of the Toronto Power Evangelism: ‘it tends to shift the focus away from the shed blood of Jesus on the cross and onto the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit carried out by men. This is the method of evangelism favoured by Alpha.’

Charismatic Heresy says: ‘The balance of topics covered in Alpha aptly reveals what Alpha really is. A program that spends two pages on the “Communion Meal”, eight pages on “speaking in tongues”, and sixteen pages on “healing” cannot make claims about introducing people to basic Christianity. Alpha does not teach basic Christianity; Alpha promotes Charismatic Protestantism.’

Cephas Ministry notes: ‘CRN Journal said that “The God of Alpha is not the God of the Bible.” It is true that Questions of Life presents no real doctrine of God nor does it seek to teach about His person, character or attributes … failure to present even the basics about the person of God (in evangelism) may leave the person being witnessed to, in various forms of mental idolatry or a new age mentality, which is a faulty foundation for any supposed conversion. Alpha passes over the person of God. Evangelization without some proper understanding of God is suspect and deficient.’

In the documentaries on Alpha over the years, none of the attendees can explain God’s nature, the power of the Cross, the true gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Most of them talk about themselves and how Alpha helped them ‘sort things out’ or ‘get a perspective’. From what I have seen and heard, Alpha appeals to people seeking some sort of healing in their lives.  I know Alpha devotees who take the same course over and over again.  Some of them still seem as broken as before.  Many rely on emotion to guide their lives rather than on reason or common sense.  An Alpha leader I know panders to that.  He invited me along recently.  I said, ‘I’m not a touchy-feely person.  And I would be coming along to learn Biblical truths.’  ‘Oh, then,’ he replied, ‘you’re probably not for us.  We like emotion — lots of it. And, no, we don’t talk about the truth of the Bible.’

Alpha also ties together two popular tendencies in today’s churches: New Age and Prosperity Gospel, which in Alpha, is known as Kingdom Now theology. Kingdom Now theology is sometimes called Dominionism or Triumphalism. Essentially, it says that we can have all of the physical and health benefits of God’s perfect Kingdom here and now. Nicky Gumbel explains:

The Kingdom is both ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ … We live between the times, when the age to come has broken into history. The old age goes on, but the powers of the new era have erupted into this age. … healing is one of the signs of the Kingdom which was inaugurated by Jesus Christ and continues to this day. Hence we should expect God to continue to heal miraculously today as part of His Kingdom activity.

The combination of Kingdom Now with New Age experiences is a powerful and seductive one, particularly for the vulnerable.  Gumbel says:

In the Enlightenment reason ruled supreme and explanation led to experience. In the present transitional culture, with its ‘pick-and-mix’ worldview in which the New Age movement is a potent strand, experiences lead to explanation.

Hence, Alpha’s focus on the Holy Spirit over the Word of God, charismatic over teaching, emotion over truth.  Alpha does not discuss sin or salvation.  Mainstream notes:

… more compassion/understanding at work, more patience, tolerance, confidence and deep feelings of contentment can equally well be produced by a sense of psychological well-being. Without the cross they do not constitute salvation. The attempt by Nicky Gumbel to bring Jesus into the testimonies by asking exactly what had made these differences, was met with a blank look and the response: ‘Just the relationship that I’ve developed with God. Simple as that.’

These testimonies seemed to … be … only evidence of conversion to a Christian lifestyle, not to Christ. And when the ‘Christian lifestyle’ is an endless round of ‘blessings’, supernatural ‘experiences’, spiritual ‘parties’ [see video talk 14] and ‘play’-times (iv), then the transition from the counterfeit spirituality of the New Age to Christianity is really only one of degree, not kind. In which case I would echo the question of one evangelical minister who asked: ‘What is it they are converted to?’

Don’t be confused.  Alpha is not a Bible study course.  It will not answer your questions on the Triune God, how the books of the Bible fit together, the difference between the Old and the New Testament covenants.  Nor is Alpha a study of Christianity.  You will learn nothing of the early Church, the Reformation or the state of the Church today.

If you are required to take Alpha prior to Confirmation and do not wish to, seek another church in which to be confirmed.  If you are enquiring about Christianity or want to become part of church life after a long absence, look for a good church which delivers sound teaching not sensory experiences.

As Cephas Ministry says:

Alpha’s deficiencies outweigh any merit. The acrostic ALF can be used to remember the deficiencies. Advocating Kingdom Now theories. Locked into fickle emotions. Faulty biblical understanding …

The idea of a fatal attraction has come to mean a relationship that was thought to be wonderful, finally turning out to destroy a person. The Alpha Course may very well fit that description as it claims to take people through Bible terrain but in reality turns them inward to their emotions and experiences. It locks them into a detour and cycle of fickle emotions, carnal feelings and self-focus and away from the true lover of their souls. It will be another fad that will leave people dazed, confused, and worse off in the long run. So-called Holy Ghost weekends cannot compare to a sane and balanced daily walk with Jesus Christ through the Scriptures.

You can read more here:

Cephas Ministry

Deception in the Church

Mainstream Archive

Charismatic Heresy

Understand the Times

CATHOLIC FUNDAMENTALIST TAKES ON
ALPHA

1. ALPHA

http://charismatic-heresy.blogspot.com/2007/02/alpha.html
November 18, 2006

Evidently Alpha was designed to evangelize the un-churched.

Alpha was founded and started by Protestant Nicky Gumbel. And Gumbel has a charismatic agenda!
The balance of topics covered in Alpha aptly reveals what Alpha really is. A program that spends two pages on the “Communion Meal”, eight pages on “speaking in tongues”, and sixteen pages on “healing” cannot make claims about introducing people to basic Christianity. Alpha does not teach basic Christianity; Alpha promotes Charismatic Protestantism.
The differences (between Protestant and Catholic teaching) are “totally insignificant compared to the things that unite us…we need to UNITE around the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus; the absolute essential things at the core of the Christian faith on which we are all agreed. We need to give people liberty to disagree on the things which are secondary.” (Session 13 White Alpha training manual pp 63-68 Video V Talk 14.)
NONSENSE!
The “totally insignificant things” and “the things which are secondary” that are banished from Alpha are:
Sacred Tradition,
Teaching authority of the Church,
The Holy Mother,
Catholic understanding of the Sacraments,
Mass is a sacrifice,
The Sacrament of Confirmation,


The Sacrament of Penance,
The Anointing of the Sick,
Holy Orders,
Sacrament of Matrimony,

and so on.

“We make it a rule on Alpha never to criticize another denomination, another Christian church or a Christian leader.” (Telling Others, p114). Hmm. Then why not send these people over to the Congregationalists?
ALPHA is supposed to be an introductory course on basic Christianity. When did tongues and healing become part of basic Christianity? Not to mention that basic Christian teaching does not have to include errors and ALPHA is full of errors! What fool builds his house on sand thinking I will reinforce the foundation later? Why teach people errors and hope the errors will somehow correct themselves once the convert is inside the church? It doesn’t work that way. Dissent is a widespread problem in the Catholic Church. What the ALPHA convert will do is bring the ALPHA heresies into the Church. Who will correct him? Would it not be simpler for people to start out the right way without having to unlearn errors? Are we teaching tongues to first graders? What is the use of introducing complex spiritual topics to people who wrestle with basic concepts about God? There are some glowing reports by some bishops how great ALPHA has been as an evangelizing tool. What do these bishops really want, filling the churches with Catholics in name only or having smaller churches with real converts? If we cannot get them without the ALPHA program, common sense would dictate to leave them where they are. That would be better for all concerned.
Alpha and the ‘New Evangelisation’
http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=4310&CFID=40829758&CFTOKEN=24589038*

*See Paul Likoudis’ article Alpha and the ‘New Evangelisation’ page 121- Michael

2. NEW AGE ‘CHURCH’ by Frank Calneggia

http://members.iinet.net.au/~raphael/newagechurch.html

The Protestant evangelising program Alpha seeks to bind together all sorts of Christians in what it calls “an introduction to basic Christianity”. The practice of trying to fit this Protestant product into a Catholic context, so that Catholics can bind themselves to all the other Christians in a common so-called “basic Christianity” is not the harmless activity that its ‘catholic’ apologists make it out to be, and as this short analysis will clearly show.

ALPHA UNSCRAMBLED by Frank Calneggia

http://members.iinet.net.au/~raphael/alpha.html

“What is the point of life?
What happens when we die?
What relevance does Jesus have for our lives today?
How do we deal with guilt?”

“If you would like to explore any of these questions then Alpha is for you”.

This is how Alpha advertises its material; and it is how Alpha was advertised by the Catholic Parish of Mandurah, Western Australia. To answer these questions truthfully and accurately Alpha needs to be in full possession of the whole Truth. An Alpha website, specifically designed to induce Catholics into Alpha, claims that “Alpha is sound and works well in Catholic Parishes”. One would expect, therefore, that Alpha springs from the fullness of Catholic Teaching and Catholic Faith in that Teaching.

However, such is not the case as the same website unashamedly reveals:

“Alpha was developed over a twenty year period by the evangelical, charismatic Anglican Church of Holy Trinity, Brompton.”

The Roman Catholic Church, which Jesus Christ founded and of which He is the Head, is the only Church in full possession of His Truth. It is obvious that Alpha cannot and will not answer the four questions above in the full light of Catholic Truth, because it comes from a source that does not possess that Truth.

The Alpha for ‘catholics’ website states that “Catholics who have read the Alpha material have found it to be remarkably free from anything which we might object to”.


Its Protestant origin guarantees Alpha to be ‘free’ from the fullness of Catholic Truth, and to contain implicitly or explicitly all the heresies of its corrupt origin.

The statement that Alpha is “free from anything which we (Catholics) might object to” is thus taken to mean that Alpha is “free from” any Catholic Truth which ‘we’ (sic) ‘catholics’ might object to. Mandurah Parish reproduced a glowing ‘testimony’ to Alpha in the Easter 2002 edition of its Parish Bulletin, which verifies this meaning:

Sessions are about Jesus, not about church dogma and teachings but about Jesus. Who did he (note the small ‘h’) claim to be, what’s his (note the small ‘h’ again) relevance to me today, and so on? For some people it might be like meeting the man for the first time.”

Church Dogma and Church Teaching is specifically the Teaching of Jesus about His Father, Himself, His Holy Spirit, His Holy Mother, His Holy Catholic Church, His Moral Law, His Sacraments etc. The commission to safeguard and hand on this teaching Our Lord gave to only one entity: the Hierarchy of His Catholic Church. Any church separated from that Sacred entity teaches neither with His Authority nor with His Infallibility.

With Catholic Teaching and Dogma guaranteed to be absent, all that Alpha can offer individuals is their own individual and private interpretation of the Bible, where they will “meet the man” Jesus.

Catholics who know and understand their Catholic Faith see through the fallacies and deceits of programmes like Alpha. But Alpha is specifically aimed at those who are weak in their Faith or who know little or nothing about the Catholic Faith, and who can therefore be relied upon not to see the deception that Jesus Christ is being deliberately excluded from ‘catholic’ Alpha sessions, and that they are being presented with a make-believe caricature of Him: a ‘Jesus’ who does not condemn to a Hell which no longer exists.

The series of ten talks advertised by the Mandurah Catholic Parish are on the following topics:

Who is Jesus?

Why did he die?

Why and how should I read the Bible?

How should I pray?

What about the Holy Spirit?

How does God guide us?

How can I overcome evil?

Why and how should I tell others?

Does God heal today?

What about the Church?

After participants have been mesmerised by the first 9 sessions of group dynamics and private interpretation of the Bible to arrive at a group consensus that is aligned to the preconceived caricature of Jesus “the man” that has been hidden from them in the secret Protestant leaders notes that are used to guide the discussions, then, according to the ‘testimony’ reproduced above, when they arrive at the tenth session (sic) ‘What about the Church?’ they will be confronted with another man made caricature. After nine sessions in which Catholic Teaching has been deliberately excluded from the discussions in a Catholic Parish, the tenth session will also deliberately exclude Catholic Teaching about the origin and nature of the Catholic Church, in order to present a caricature that serves the ends of the modern rampant false ecumenism.

This false ecumenism and its relationship to Alpha were outlined in Alpha News, April – July 2002:

“We may be very thankful that so broadly unitive a course [Alpha] has won such general recognition around the world, binding together Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists and Pentecostals in an introduction to basic Christianity.”

Here Catholics are being bracketed with breakaways from the Catholic Church: creating the illusion that the Catholic Church at one time in Her history has corrupted or broken away from a so-called “basic Christianity”. This supposed “basic Christianity” of biblical times is the common ground which Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals etc are all now invited to ‘discover’ in Alpha by means of private interpretation of the Bible, so that they can be united in a common ecumenical ‘church’. The ‘catholic’ slice who have been siphoned into this sink show their acute identity crisis as soon as they open their mouths to try and fit anti-Catholic Alpha into a Catholic context, as was done on the ‘Alpha in a Catholic Context’ page of the ‘catholic’ – Alpha website:

“Our identity as Catholic Christians is very much as part of the Church community. But this sense of Church is perhaps not something which people can respond to in the early stages.”

No longer able to recognise Holy Mother Church as the unique and pristine New Creation of the Son of God because of their loss of Catholic Faith in that Holy reality, such ‘catholics’ are forced to grope in the darkness of private biblical interpretation toward a new identity as ‘Catholic christians’: an identity where being ‘christian’ is their new fundamental and more important, basic identity; and where ‘catholic’ is the veneer left on the surface to prevent public scrutiny of their identity crisis.

The reality is that there is no other ‘basic Christianity’ apart from Catholicism, even if the name ‘Catholic’ came into use centuries after Our Lord founded His Church: the One, True, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

It is Biblical, Catholic Truth that: (i) Our Lord, founded His Church upon the Prince of His Apostles, Peter, the Rock; (ii) Our Lord changed bread and wine into His own Body and Blood and gave the power to do this to His Apostles with the words “do this in memory of Me”; (iii) Our Lord gave His Apostles power over sin with the words “those whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven, those whose sins you shall retain are retained”.

These are basic, fundamental, truths; but they are either rejected outright or given twisted and false meanings under the banner of ‘basic christianity’ by ‘anglican christians’, ‘methodist christians’, ‘baptist christians’, ‘pentecostal christians’, and now also by ‘catholic’ christians in their united ‘ecumenical’ drive toward a ‘church’ without Catholic Dogma or Catholic Teaching.

A ‘church’ without Dogma will not tolerate a Catholic Hierarchy which insists on Dogma and Catholic Teaching. So this ‘church’ is not the Institutional or Hierarchical Catholic Church that Our Lord founded, and which teaches with His Authority and with His Infallibility. It is a liberal non-hierarchical harlot ‘church’, where everybody can liberally believe what he likes and do what he pleases.

Fr John Flynn SAC of the Riverton Catholic Parish tried to interest his parishioners in an Institutional/liberal dichotomy in a letter he wrote to introduce them to Alpha:

“Biblically based, Alpha is an evangelising program directed especially at the lapsed, the searching and unbelievers. It needs a strong support base for success, and this comes from the already committed. However, the already committed could find Alpha a powerful renewing experience… the impression I have gained over my 12 months in the parish is that the spirituality whilst deep and devoted, is rather institutional, traditional and formal. Because alpha has a strong Charismatic element, it could bring a more spontaneous personal and liberal character into out parish spirituality and devotion… a Charismatic prayer group in the parish I believe would be beneficial.”

Why is Fr Flynn so afraid to tell the parishioners who practice what he describes as “institutional, tradition and formal” devotions and spirituality that Alpha is a Protestant “evangelising programme”? Does he lack the ‘courage’ of his counterpart in Mandurah who spilled the beans about Alpha: that it was “not about Church teaching and Dogma”; the very realities that “institutional, traditional and formal” Catholics love? Why does he tell them that Alpha is “biblically based” when it is based on the Protestant practice of private interpretation of a corrupted bible and therefore not biblically based at all; but has only a shallow surface appearance of being biblically based? His letter implies to me that he wants “liberal” practices and beliefs for his parish in preference to “institutional and traditional” ones, and that he believes Alpha will achieve that.

In His Providence God has mercifully sent us a Holy Man to teach us with His Authority and His Infallibility exactly where and how Alpha fits into a Catholic context. In his Apostolic Letter of 1910, Our Apostolic Mandate, Pope St Pius X wrote to the French Bishops about a world wide movement of apostasy from the Catholic Faith that he could clearly see operating in the world of his day:

“What has become of their Catholicity? Alas, this organisation (i.e. the SILLON, composed of well-meaning social Catholics in France) which formerly afforded such promising expectations, has been harnessed in its course by the modern enemies of the Church, and is now no more than a miserable affluent, feeding THE GREAT MOVEMENT OF APOSTASY, being organised in every country for the establishment of a One-World Church, which shall have neither dogmas nor hierarchy neither discipline of the mind nor curb for the passions, and which, under the pretext of freedom and human dignity, would bring back to the world the reign of legalised cunning and brute force and of the oppression of the weak and of all those who toil and suffer. We know only too well the dark workshops in which are elaborated those mischievous doctrines which ought not seduce clear thinking minds.”

Workshops that deliberately exclude Catholic Teaching thereby deliberately exclude the Light of Christ. These dark workshops “elaborate mischievous doctrines” in place of the Light of Catholic Teaching that has been rejected. We reproduced the ‘testimony’ from a bulletin of the Mandurah Catholic Parish where it was explicitly stated that Alpha workshops are not about Church Teaching and Dogma. It could not be any clearer.

Alpha workshops fit to a tee the description given to “dark workshops” by Pope St Pius X: they are created to feed the great movement of apostasy that was already being organised in every country in 1910 for the establishment of what we now clearly see to be the goal of Alpha: a united ecumenical church of ‘basic christianity’; which in reality is the same ugly One World ‘church’ of darkness that Pope St Pius X could see being organised in every country in his day: a ‘church’ “without dogma or hierarchy”, and which, “under the pretext of freedom and human dignity will bring back to the world the reign of legalised cunning and brute force and of the oppression of the weak and of all those who toil and suffer”.

Alpha was boasted of as being ‘free’ from Catholic Dogma and Teaching as a pretext for inducing involvement in its ‘workshops’: ‘freedom’ being used as a pretext; just as St Pius X said it would be used in this dark ‘church’: to oppress those weak in faith and who suffer because of it … all done under the further pretext of introducing them to a ‘man’ who accords with their ‘human dignity’: just as St. Pius X said it would be done.

From what this great Pope and Saint has taught us about THE GREAT MOVEMENT OF APOSTASY, we know for sure what the big A of Alpha represents.

The Mandurah Parish unwittingly got it right when it reproduced in its Easter 2002 Bulletin a claim of the National Director of Alpha Australia that likened Alpha to a “revival plan that will burn as hot and as wild as the bushfires Australia is famous for … just as our bushfires are caught by the wind and jump across roads to ignite other forests …”.

Discipline of the mind (cf where Pope St. Pius X defined the absence of this so necessary attribute to be a mark of the ‘church’ of darkness) or even a modicum of plain common sense tells us that hot and wild bushfires are destructive and burn out of control, destroying everything in their path: and this is an accurate epitaph for the ‘basic christianity’ that deliberately rejects Catholic Teaching to be blown uncontrollably along by the wind of Alpha into the eternal, uncontrollable flames of Hell.

“But when the Rebel comes, Satan will set to work. There will be all kinds of miracles and a deceptive show of signs and portents, and everything evil for the deception of those who are bound for destruction because they did not possess the love of truth that could have saved them. The reason why God is sending a power to delude them and make them believe what is untrue is to condemn all who refused to believe in the truth and chose wickedness instead.” [2 Thessalonians 9-12].

“I saw again the strange big church that was being built. There was nothing holy in it. In this church all the work was being done mechanically according to set rules and formulae. Everything was being done according to human reason. I saw all sorts of people, things, doctrines and opinions. There was something proud, presumptuous, and violent about it, and they seemed to be very successful. I did not see a single Angel nor a single Saint helping in the work.”

“I saw that many pastors allowed themselves to be taken up with ideas that were dangerous to the Church. They were building a great, strange, and extravagant church. Everyone was to be admitted in it in order to be united and have equal rights: Evangelicals, Catholics, sects of every description. Such was to be the new church, but God had other designs.”

“I see many excommunicated ecclesiastics who do not seem to be concerned about it, nor even aware of it. Yet they are (ipso facto) excommunicated whenever they co-operate in enterprises, enter into associations, and embrace opinions on which an anathema has been cast. It can be seen thereby that God ratifies the decrees, orders, and interdicts issued by the Head of the Church, and that He keeps them in force even though men show no concern for them, reject them, or laugh them to scorn.”

[Quotes taken from the Life of Anna Katarina Emmerich by Rev. Carl Schmoeger. The French translation from the original German was made by the Vicar General and Canon of Versailles, E. de Cazalès. The Italian translation was made on the orders of His Holiness Pope Pius IX].

+ F. Calneggia, Feast of Pope St. Pius X, 21 August 2002

The Australian Marian Academy of the Immaculate Conception (AMAIC) is Traditionalist- Michael

CATHOLIC PRIEST FR. JAMES MALLON DESIGNS FOLLOW UP TO THE
ALPHA COURSE

ALPHA NEWS: Alpha and Catholicism 201: A “Complete Package” for the Catholic Church
While Alpha is acceptable to Catholics, Catholicism 201 is designed as a follow-up for the Alpha course in a Catholic context.
By Staff, Alpha Canada http://www.christianity.ca/NETCOMMUNITY/Page.aspx?pid=4723
Alpha News, Summer 2007.

Being a priest was the last thing James Mallon ever thought he’d do. When he felt God’s call on Easter Sunday, 1988, he fought it for about a year. “If you fight against a call that really is from God, you’ll eventually lose … but what an adventure,” says Mallon. Now, at 37, Father James Mallon is a priest of the Archdiocese of Halifax and Pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas/Canadian Martyrs Parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is an Alpha Advisor and conference speaker. He is the founder and director of the John Paul II Media Institute.

In his spare time Father Mallon created a course called
Catholicism 201, designed as a follow-up for the Alpha course in a Catholic context. Alpha News chatted with the passionate priest during a recent trip to Toronto …

Alpha News (AN): How successful have you found the Alpha course to be in a Roman Catholic setting?

James Mallon (JM): I’ve been doing Alpha since 2000, and I don’t think we’ve ever had an Alpha course with less than 60-70 people. In our last Alpha about a third were non-church goers, and about 40 percent were young people. In terms of basic evangelization, in terms of a program to rejuvenate the faith of those who are already involved in church, to bring in new people who have no connection with church at all … it’s the best program that I’ve found. I think every parish should be doing it.

AN: What was your motivation in creating Catholicism 201?

JM: When people finished Alpha they said to me, “Well what do we do next?” I know there are different programs suggested to follow Alpha, but in terms of doing it within a Catholic context I felt the need to kind of “fill it out”.

AN: One of the successes of Alpha is that it walks an incredible theological tightrope. In order for it to be theologically acceptable to Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, etc., the Alpha course focuses on the things that all churches hold in common. There’s nothing in Alpha that’s not the content of the Catholic faith.

JM: When I looked around to see what follow up courses were out there for a Catholic context, I found nothing really satisfying. So I decided I would develop my own course, something that uses the style of Alpha and the dynamic of Alpha and hopefully the spirit of it, and go to things that are uniquely Catholic.

AN: How do you see the Alpha course and Catholicism 201 working together?

JM: I see it in a sense as offering a complete package from a Catholic perspective. Most Catholic parishes run programs called RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), which is mostly for adults who want to be baptized or want to become Catholics. My RCIA program is Alpha and Catholicism 201.

For six years I’ve been doing Alpha in the fall semester and Catholicism 201 after Christmas. We follow the same schedule. We start with the meal, and have praise and worship music, and the talk, and small groups. I find that sixty percent of the people who do Alpha continue on doing Catholicism 201. About thirty percent of people who do Catholicism 201 haven’t done Alpha, and they’ll go back the next year and do Alpha. I find the two of them feed into each other. You do not need to have taken the Alpha course to benefit from Catholicism 201. About a quarter of the sales are to parishes that don’t run Alpha. After doing Catholicism 201, however, they’re starting to say, “Maybe we should do Alpha now.”

AN: Is Alpha mentioned in Catholicism 201?

JM: I make reference to it all the time. The course starts with an introduction to Catholicism 201, and I ask the question, “Why 201? What happened to 101?” I explain that in a sense I’m proposing that Alpha is Catholicism 101, and that we’re following up on it. Then I give a basic summary of the Alpha course. The first talk in Catholicism 201 is on the Church, one holy catholic and apostolic. The first five minutes summarize Nicky Gumbel’s talk at the very end of the Alpha course, because everything he says in that talk is absolutely solid, so I build upon that.

AN: How much does Catholicism 201 cost to purchase?

JM: It costs $150. That includes over eight hours of video. Disk three contains the course manual, handouts, discussion questions, suggested readings, and a whole bunch of other stuff. The three DVD’s represent about 1,500 hours of work. It was a year of my life really, on my day off and usually late into the wee hours of the morning for months on end.

The most interesting sale was to a priest in Siberia. The Catholic bishop in Siberia made a decision to use Alpha as a primary vehicle of evangelization. They’re actually using Alpha as their main program, and they were looking for a follow-up program. Someone in London at an Alpha International conference suggested Catholicism 201. I thought it was a joke at first when he called me from Siberia, like “is this guy for real?” It turns out he is very much real, and he sent a cheque, and they’re actually helping to pay for it to be transcribed and recorded in Russian.

Editor’s Note: In the process of developing Catholicism 201, Father Mallon created the John Paul II Media Institute, where most of the editing and post production for the course were done. Proceeds from the sale of Catholicism 201 support the work of the Institute.

I WROTE TO FR. JAMES MALLON, ADVISOR, ALPHA CANADA. RESPONSE ON PAGE 159

From:
prabhu
To:
RM
Cc:
DSM; james@mallon.com
Sent: Friday, June 11, 2010 7:52 AM Subject: ALPHA

Dear RM, Fr James, and DSM,

I am very grateful to you for your response, RM.

I look forward to any input that Fr. James and DSM might give me but I guess that it will be from the Alpha perspective.

I myself have attended an Alpha one-day program and bought Nicky Gumbel’s book Questions of Life years before I met him personally.

What I am really interested in is whether Catholics anywhere have found problems with the Alpha course material, etc.

A Catholic pro-lifer and apologist who did Alpha immediately after hearing [Catholic apologist] Steve Ray found quite a bit that he could not accept as a Catholic and he gave me a detailed report in March [when I first wrote my questions to you (RM)] hoping that I would be able to research deeper and, if necessary publish an alert in our ministry’s web site www.ephesians-511.net.

I am copying here a couple of links that someone else provided me with, and which I believe one must read:

Should ALPHA be used in a Catholic Context? – An analysis, by Gillian Van der Lande www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha1.htm

Is ALPHA for Catholics? By William J. Cork, D. Min. www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha2.htm

While there seems to be a definite bias in them against Alpha because of the charismatic background of the Alpha originators, and which we can discount because they — for one thing — are subjective, there certainly are other aspects which [they point out that] are disturbing.

Steve Ray had earlier sent me the Catholic Answers link: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=189007 in which there is this comment there from one “Seatuck” dated October 10, 2007:

Every Catholic that I know that has taken the Alpha Course is now not in line with church teaching. Take that for what it’s worth.

One “jmcrae” immediately responds:

I believe it. Everyone I know either dropped out of the program early because they couldn’t stand to hear all of the misinformation, or ended up joining the Centre Street Church (an evangelical organization associated with the Baptists) and leaving the Catholic Church because they were taught in Alpha that the Catholic Church “adds on” to the essential Gospel message (because when presenting the Alpha course, Catholic Churches have to use a package that says right on the box, “Catholic Add-Ons”).

That’s all I have for now. At your service in Jesus’ Name, Michael

From:
prabhu
To:
RM Cc:
DSM; james@mallon.com
Sent: Saturday, June 12, 2010 7:28 AM Subject: Fw: ALPHA

Here are some other Catholic critiques of the Alpha course.

http://grigaitis.net/?doc=weekly/2006/2006-02-10.html

http://grigaitis.net/?doc=weekly/2006/2006-02-17.html

http://grigaitis.net/?doc=weekly/2006/2006-02-24.html

http://grigaitis.net/?doc=weekly/2006/2006-05-05.html
Love and Prayers, Michael

FR. MALLON’S ADDRESS WAS GIVEN TO ME BY AN INTERNATIONAL LEADER OF THE CHARISMATIC RENEWAL

CATHOLIC PRIEST FR. BENEDICT HERON OSB EULOGISES THE
ALPHA COURSE

Come Holy Spirit – Help Us To Pray
by Benedict Heron OSB
1997, Internet edition September 2005

http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/dombenedict/book-pray/pray-1.htm EXTRACTS:

Acknowledgements:
I also want to thank everyone at Holy Trinity, Brompton and the Alpha course. Their vibrant faith and ecumenical openness have been a source of inspiration to me.

Page 27: One good friend of mine had been asked by this wife to attend an Alpha course with her at Holy Trinity Brompton. He replied, “Certainly not”. A day or so later a friend with whom he was playing tennis suggested he might like to attend an Alpha course, and then very soon after another person made the same suggestion. He realised that God might be saying something to him through these ‘coincidences’, so he decided to go to Alpha with his wife and it profoundly changed his life. He now runs Alpha courses very effectively for others.

Page 35: One meets beautiful Christians in all our churches who fairly frequently experience answers to prayer. Nicky Gumble [sic] of Holy Trinity, Brompton and the Alpha course has told us that he writes down in a note-book his petitions, and goes through ticking them off if and when they are answered.

Page 42: I have been greatly edified by the intercession at Holy Trinity, Brompton, London, which is the mother church of the Alpha Course. As is well known, the Alpha Course has been spreading very widely not only in this country but in many others, and it has led to very many thousands of conversions. The Alpha Course is now, in the year 2000. being used in a considerable majority of the prisons in this country, and Dartmoor now has a special wing for Christians. The point I want to make here is that the extraordinary fruitfulness of the Alpha Course has been and is based on so much powerful intercession. In his book, The Church on its Knees (HTB Publications 1998), Jeremy Jennings of the staff at HTB describes the intercessory ministry there. This includes their early morning hour-long prayer meetings most days, their all-night prayer vigils, and their annual Prayer Weekends with about 170 people. They have also had the novel idea of hiring from time to time a boat on the Thames for about 300 people, to pray before different important centres like the House of Commons, and Westminster Abbey. Prayer for revival is one of their main themes of intercession. I remember once when I was at their Sunday evening service we all prayed for the conversion of Japan for about ten minutes, Japan being one of the most difficult areas for Christian missions. There is also much intercession in the many home groups linked with Holy Trinity, Brompton. It is difficult not to be impressed by their great confidence in the power of prayer and their dedication to intercession.

Page 77:
Where are the ‘evangelists’ (Ephesians 4.11) in some Christian communities? Think of the amazing fruitfulness of the Alpha course in prisons and elsewhere, which of
course comes from an Anglican charismatic church, Holy Trinity, Brompton.

Also at: http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/dombenedict/book-pray/pray-5.htm

and http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/dombenedict/book-pray/pray-3.htm

Come Holy Spirit – Help Us To Pray
by Benedict Heron OSB Part 2

Chapter Three: Repentance

http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/dombenedict/book-pray/pray-2.htm
EXTRACTS:

I remember Nicky Gumbel saying that earlier as a barrister the idea of being an Anglican priest would have appalled him, yet when the time came there was nothing he wanted more than ordination… One can also mention the prophetic word spoken to Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity, Brompton and Alpha by John Wimber, saying that God was giving Nicky a special gift as an evangelist, a word which has been wonderfully confirmed by events.

Praying for Healing – The Challenge
by Benedict Heron OSB
1989, Internet version September 29, 2005

http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/dombenedict/book-healing/healing-home.html
EXTRACTS:

Over the years I have noticed with interest how God has led various people who are gifted in the healing ministry to pray in different styles. Ian Andrews, Monsignor Michael Buckley, John Wimber, Trevor Dearing, and the Jesuit Linn brothers, all have their own style of praying…

John Wimber and those who have been influenced by his style of ministry tend to call much on the Holy Spirit to come…

In his important book, Power Healing (Hodder and Stoughton, 1986, page 95), John Wimber defines inner healing as ‘a process in which the Holy Spirit brings forgiveness of sins and emotional renewal to people suffering from damaged minds, wills and emotions’…

John Wimber is surely right in encouraging all Christians to step out in faith and pray for healing…

Then there is John Wimber and the rapidly expanding Vineyard Fellowship which he has founded in America. Healings have obviously played an important part in this expansion.

Select biography

Gumbel, Nicky. Questions of Life, Kingsway Publications 1993.

Gumbel, Nicky, Challenging Lifestyle, Kingsway Publications 1996

Sanford, Agnes, Healing Gifts of the Spirit. Arthur James 1949 [Much of her thought is New Age- Michael]

Wimber, John, with Kevin Springer, Power Healing. Hodder & Stoughton 1986

WHO IS FR. BENEDICT HERON OSB?

He is a Benedictine priest, the author of the above book Come Holy Spirit – Help Us To Pray
as well as I Saw Satan Fall, The Way of Spiritual Warfare 1997, St Pauls Indian edition 2001.

He was very active in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the U.K. until age and ill health overtook him in 2001. As the above extracts show, Fr. Heron was very close to Holy Trinity, Brompton, Nicky Gumbel and Alpha, and even approves the ministry of John Wimber of the Vineyard churches and the Toronto Blessing.

Clicking on the U.K. Catholic Charismatic Renewal link http://www.ccr.org.uk/archive/gn0207/g0207nws.htm will connect you to not only the Catholic Charismatic Renewal but also to Fr. Benedict Heron and Alpha courses!

On February 19, 2002, either the issue of New Age or the name of Fr. Benedict Heron came up at the Alpha workshop that I had attended in Chennai [see page 1]. I do not recall much detail except that when I mentioned that I had a copy of the Indian edition of “I Saw Satan Fall” [which has a chapter on the New Age Movement and Alternative Therapies] and that I was into a ministry that exposes New Age error, Peter Kraushar of Alpha UK said that he was in close touch with Fr. Benedict Heron. On my request, Peter Kraushar agreed to carry a bunch of my papers to personally hand over to Fr. Heron along with a copy of the Indian edition of his book as a gift from me.

In acknowledgement, I received a fairly long letter dated February 23, 2002 from Fr. Heron on the letterhead of the Benedictine Monastery of Christ the King, 29 Bramley Road, London, thanking me “for the Indian edition of my book, and for your own articles and letters.” Fr. Heron informed me that he was “an official exorcist but not active at present.” He added “May God bless you especially in your work in this difficult field. I am happy to pray for you.”

The Foreword to “I Saw Satan Fall” is the much criticized Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle [pages 10, 20, 48, 73] Ambrose Griffiths.

In early 2002, I was in the initial stages of understanding the subject of New Age, but in a few months time I was knowledgeable enough to understand something that I had already suspected while reading his book, but had not enough confidence to challenge because of who he was – that while there was a lot of good and truth in his writings, there was also a lot of error. In fact, I have to admit that I found that Fr. Benedict Heron subscribed to many New Age beliefs and condoned the use of some New Age therapies. Just a year after our correspondence, these same alternative therapies were named in the Vatican Document on the New Age.

Somehow, I never got around to writing a critique of the book “I Saw Satan Fall”.

However, in my article “Bach Flower Remedies” August 2006, updated August 2009, I had written:

“Fr. Heron has corresponded with me and I have great personal regard for him. But I would recommend that this book be read with discernment. From a Catholic perspective, there is something to be gained from reading it. But Chapter 4, The New Age Movement and Alternative Therapies, is not in sync with the latest Christian understanding of these therapies.

It in fact even differs with current Catholic thought, and goes easy on at least four of these therapies which are included in the Vatican Provisional Report on the New Age, finding excuses for situations in which they may be ”helpful’. I would say that several of Fr. Heron’s arguments are untenable. He has been rather subjective, and has also not done his homework well on a significant portion of that section of his book.”

I can only imagine what the state of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the U.K. might be if one of it’s key figures — author, priest and exorcist — is closely associated with Third Wave Pentecostalism and at the same time exhibiting a most serious lack of understanding of New Age alternative medicine while attempting to include the subject in a book on spiritual warfare.

MORE CATHOLIC CRITIQUES OF
ALPHA

3A. The Dangers of Protestant Material by R. J. Grigaitis S.F.O.*, February 10, 2006

http://grigaitis.net/?doc=weekly/2006/2006-02-10.html
*Secular Franciscan Order

Among the resources that have aided me in my theological endeavours, I have two books that have been invaluable: the New International Version Study Bible, and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Both of these books are Protestant, but since they have no Catholic equal, I have no choice but to use them. However, I have written in bold black letters on the front cover of both of them, “WARNING: contains doctrinal and theological errors, and blatant heresy! For reference use only!” This is the way Catholics should approach almost all Protestant material, and if it’s not being used simply as a reference, it’s likely that it shouldn’t be used at all.

Note that I said, “almost all.” There is Protestant material that is not heretical. I love Big Idea’s stuff like Veggie Tales and 3-2-1 Penguins! and there is a large library of theologically sound Protestant music. This does not diminish the danger of possible heresy though, particularly Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone).

“The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me. I’ll stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.” This children’s song seems innocent enough, but it contains heresy. This song says that that the Bible is the Word of God, with the implication that nothing else is. The Church teaches that the Word of God is Sacred Magisterium, from which flow Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. This may seem like a small point, but it sets the stage for the acceptance of the Sola Scriptura heresy.

Another thing that sets the stage for the acceptance of the Sola Scriptura heresy is Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha Course. Nicky Gumbel is a very good and engaging speaker with a very positive message. Through his work, many have become Christians, and even more have become more committed Christians. However, this positive message is flawed. Like the New International Version Study Bible and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the Alpha Course contains doctrinal and theological errors, and even blatant heresy.

Unlike the above mentioned two books, the Alpha Course is not meant as reference material, but as formation material. Catholics should not be forming others with heresy; therefore, the Alpha Course should not be used by Catholics.

Next week I’ll go into a little bit of depth as to what’s wrong with the Alpha Course. For now, let me just caution you of the dangers of Protestant material.

In general, do not use Protestant material unless you know it is free of heresy.

3B. Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha Course by R. J. Grigaitis S.F.O., February 17, 2006

http://grigaitis.net/?doc=weekly/2006/2006-02-17.html

I’ve taken the Alpha Course; twice actually. Both times were in a Baptist church that a couple of my friends belong to. I enjoyed it (obviously since I took it a second time). I thought it was great to see an Anglican clergyman talked about a Catholic saint in a Baptist church. Very ecumenical! Or was it?

Being truly ecumenical or interdenominational requires common ground alone, which the Alpha Course does not. I noticed a few heretical errors in the videos, but since these errors did not come up in my small groups, I didn’t make an issue of it. The small groups I took part in were truly ecumenical and interdenominational, so my experience with the Alpha Course was very positive.

A half a year ago I was planning to be involved in an Alpha Course run by a Catholic group. This made me think of the theological problems I had ignored when I took it in the Baptist church.

While I was on vacation at my sister’s place, I read and took notes on the Questions of Life book. After reading this book, I knew that I could not morally take part in the Alpha Course in silence if the course was run under the nomenclature of the Catholic Church. I decided that the course could be used, but its errors must be made known to those taking the course. What I devised was a script to be read before and after some of the videos.

However, after writing a script for the fifth video, my health began to fail, and I had to put the project on hold. After half a year of planning to get back to it, I have rethought my initial plan, and have decided that that Alpha Course cannot be used by anyone claiming to be Catholic.

The idea of a script to correct errors would just create confusion for would-be Christians, and running the course unchecked would only lead would-be Catholics into heresy. There is no doubt about it; Catholics cannot run the Alpha Course!

I leave you now with some of the errors I found in videos 4, 5, and 7. You will notice that the major heretical theme here is Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone).

Video 4: How Can I Be Sure of My Faith?

Alpha Course: The promises in the Bible, which is the Word of God, do not change and are totally reliable.

Catholic Church: The promises of God, which are revealed through His Church, do not change and are totally reliable. The complete Word of God that is revealed through the Church, and is found in Sacred Magisterium, Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Scripture.

Video 5: Why and How Should I Read the Bible?

Alpha Course: The Bible is the most valuable thing this world affords.

Catholic Church: The most valuable thing this world affords is the Church, from which comes the Sacraments, and the Word of God.

Alpha Course: God speaks primarily through the Bible.

Catholic Church: God speaks primarily through the Church.

Alpha Course: Martin Luther was a great reformer.

Catholic Church: Martin Luther was a heretic and an excommunicate.

Alpha Course: The Bible has supreme authority.

Catholic Church: The Church has supreme authority.

Video 7: How Does God Guide Us?

Alpha Course: The Bible is the main way that God speaks to us today.

Catholic Church: The Church is the main way that God speaks to us today.

Alpha Course: God’s general Will is revealed in the Bible.

Catholic Church: God’s general Will is revealed in the Church, which includes the Bible and Tradition.

Alpha Course: To know what is right, we must ask if it is in line with the Bible.

Catholic Church: To know what is right, we must ask if it is in line with what the Church teaches.

3C. Sola Scriptura by R. J. Grigaitis S.F.O., February 24, 2006

http://grigaitis.net/?doc=weekly/2006/2006-02-24.html

Last week, I told you that I took the Alpha Course twice in a Baptist church, and that despite the heresy in the videos, particularly Sola Scriptura, no heresy came up in the small groups. Why? As well, I know of some Catholic parishes that do run the Alpha Course, but the Sola Scriptura heresy in the videos doesn’t raise any alarms. Why?

The answer to these questions is disturbing, or at least it should be. Sola Scriptura is so wide spread that it is taken for granted. The basis of Protestantism is Sola Scriptura, so obviously Protestants believe in it. Protestant influence is so strong on this issue that many Catholics also believe in it. And, if both Protestants and Catholics believe in it, those acquainted with Christianity also believe in it, or at lest believe that Christians believe in it. If everyone believes in Sola Scriptura, there’s no need to talk about it; even to the point of not knowing it has a name: Sola Scriptura.

The term Sola Scriptura is Latin, and is somewhat self-translating: “Solo Scripture” (a clearer translation is “the Bible Alone”). It is the teaching that man possesses only one source of God’s revelation today, written Scripture. Therefore, all Christian teachings are found solely in Scripture. In other words, the Church of Christ is based on the Bible.

Catholics do not believe this! In fact, Catholics believe just the opposite: the Bible is based on the Church of Christ. The Catholic Church teaches that all Christian teachings are found solely in the Church, most of which are supported by the Bible.

This is where the danger lies. If a Catholic believes in Sola Scriptura, he is open to the “biblical” proselytising of “Bible believing Christians,” and Christian-like sects. Most ex-Catholics are ex-Catholics because they first believed in the Sola Scriptura heresy.

This is why Catholics cannot run the Alpha Course. Any new Catholics that would be produced by a Catholic run Alpha Course are set up to become ex-Catholics. I’m not saying that they will become ex-Catholics, but that they would be open to that threat. Actually, so would the people running the course.

I personally know some individuals that became Catholic as a result of the Alpha Course, and I acknowledge the good that the Alpha Course has done, but that doesn’t negate the dangers of the Alpha Course and anything else that propagates the Sola Scriptura heresy.

Sola Scriptura is one of the most damaging heresies to ever shake the Church. It must not be supported in anyway by Catholics, such as by sponsoring an Alpha Course. What must be done is root out any semblance of Sola Scriptura found in the faithful.

More information can be found in these articles:

What Every Christian Should Understand About the Bible

The Word of God

3D. A Letter to Nicky Gumbel by R. J. Grigaitis S.F.O., May 5, 2006

http://grigaitis.net/?doc=weekly/2006/2006-05-05.html

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the dangers of Protestant material, singling out the New International Version (NIV) Study Bible. The next week* I singled out Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha Course. I firmly believe that Catholics should only use the NIV for scholarly purposes, and the Alpha Course should not be used at all.

Recently, I was talking with a Catholic friend of mine that strongly disagrees with me on this point. He doesn’t use the NIV, but is a strong advocate of the Alpha Course. He reasons that there is no Catholic equivalent to these materials, so why not use them for Catholic purposes. I believe they do more damage than good, and so we disagree. *see 3B above

What is the solution? As I see it, Catholics should not use these materials, so what we need is a Catholic version of the NIV, and a Catholic version of the Alpha Course. An example of this is Covenant Keepers, which is that Catholic version of Promise Keepers. However, I don’t see anything Catholic to compete with the NIV and the Alpha Course.

I have an idea to compete with the NIV. I call it the Catholic Apologetics Bible, but it will likely take another forty year before I complete it. On the other hand, a Catholic version of the Alpha Course would not be able to compete with Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha Course.

First of all the Alpha Course has a really catchy and copyrighted name. I can’t think of anything to contend with it like the name difference between Promise Keepers and Covenant Keepers.

Unlike Covenant Keepers, a Catholic Alpha Course, like Nicky Gumbel’s, would not be directed towards devout Catholics but non-Catholics and Catholics that don’t know their faith very well. If there are half a dozen Protestant churches offering Nicky Gumbel’s well known Alpha Course in a town and only one church offering the unknown Catholic alternative, chances are Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha Course will win out.

How can Catholics compete with Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha Course? They can’t! The only solution is for Nicky Gumbel to become Catholic.

This is not too far fetched. Many Church of England clergymen have become Catholic. Although the Church of England has become very Protestant, originally, the only difference between the independent Church of England and the Catholic Church was that the king or queen of England replaced the role of the pope.

The High Anglican Church, which grew out of the Oxford Movement, regained its “Catholic” roots and is practically identical to the Catholic Church except for the doctrine of Papal Primacy. Oddly enough, many of the leaders of the Oxford Movement became Catholic, most notably Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman.

This is my plan: I’ve written a letter to Nicky, and now all that is required is prayer. Please don’t write a similar letter to Nicky. The last thing he needs is a bunch of Catholics trying to browbeat him into the Church. All you have to do is pray.

Pray a small prayer every day that Nicky comes into full communion with the Church.

I also ask that you forward this e-mail to as many people as you can, so that more people will pray.

The following is a copy of the letter I sent to Nicky. Remember, this is the only letter he needs. All that is needed now is prayer.

Nicky Gumbel
Holy Trinity Brompton
Brompton Rd.
London, England
SW7 1JA

May 2, 2006

Dear Mr. Gumbel,

You are a very good speaker, and almost everything you say is true; however, you miss the mark on one extremely important detail: Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura is not a Christian doctrine, but a Christian heresy that was invented in the sixteenth century. This one false doctrine is the only thing between you and full communion with Christ’s Church.

I invite you to study this issue further. I will pray every day that you follow the example of another great Church of England clergyman, John Henry Newman, who became a cardinal and whose cause for canonisation is now in process.

Included with this letter are a few articles which can be found on my website (http://www.grigaitis.net). If you want to contact me, the best way is by e-mail. This is my personal e-mail address: *****@grigaitis.net.

Yours in Christ,

R. J. Grigaitis

These are the articles I sent with the letter:

Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha Course

Sola Scriptura

The Bible teaches…

and the pamphlet: Where Did the Bible Come From

4. Alpha and the ‘New Evangelization’ by Paul Likoudis

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=4310&CFID=40618445&CFTOKEN=53043749

In the February 2002 edition of the British Catholic monthly, Christian Order, New Zealander David Selby asks, in the feature article, “The Second Reformation Engulfs New Zealand,” questions increasingly on the minds of fellow Catholics:

“What’s going on here? Why are our churches full of Protestant ministers calling themselves Catholic priests, and Protestant congregations calling themselves Catholic? Harsh words you may say, but what would Luther, Calvin, or Cranmer recognize them as — Catholics or Protestants?”

What provoked Selby was a parish mission experience where the priest, dressed in his civvies, downplayed, ignored, or rejected every essential item of the Catholic faith, including the Real Presence, Confession, Holy Orders. About 80% of Selby’s fellow “Catholics” agreed with the “priest” and rebuked him — Selby — for acting “unecumenical” by insisting on Catholic doctrine.

Selby’s experiences are not confined to New Zealand; indeed, they are commonplace throughout the Western world. So the question naturally arises, with Catholics already more or less Protestantized: Why are Catholic bishops from England to South Africa, and Canada to Florida, rushing to promote a Protestant evangelization program called “Alpha”?

The latest American bishop to endorse Alpha, and promote it in his archdiocese, is Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul/Minneapolis. In January, he sent a letter to his priests, deacons, and seminarians praising Alpha as “one of the most effective” evangelization tools available today, and observed: “Catholic leaders recognize that [it] is consistent with the foundational teaching of the Catholic Church . . . If your parish does not have an active program for the new evangelization, then I strongly urge you to consider Alpha.”

What is particularly curious is the embrace of the program by Archbishop Flynn and other Catholic prelates –including William Cardinal Keeler, who is permitting its use in numerous parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore — is that there is no shortage of credible critiques, from evangelical, Anglican, and Catholic sources that the program is designed to create a new breed of “third wave” or “New Age” Christian who is cultish, charismatic, anti-dogmatic, and hostile to traditional Catholic worship, doctrines, and morality.

According to Christian Order‘s editor, Rod Pead, Alpha is merely “the latest in the long line of New Age/Protestant Trojan horses to be wheeled into Catholic parishes with episcopal blessing.”

Pead further says that not only is it a big business, involving an estimated million participants worldwide, “built on copyrights, target figures, line charts, and multi-million pound advertising campaigns,” it is a direct descendant of the Toronto Blessing. The latter is “a so-called Baptism of the Holy Spirit which induces hysterical, animal-like behavior (uncontrolled laughter, shaking, gibberish, grunting, howling, etc.) among congregations.

“Nicky Gumbel, who introduced this alien ‘spirit’ into England via HTB in 1994, is the prime mover behind Alpha: ‘I believe it is no coincidence,’ he stated in May 1995, ‘that the present movement of the Holy Spirit [Toronto Blessing] has come at the same time as the explosion of the Alpha course. I think the two go together’.”

Introducing Christian Order‘s feature article on Alpha for the issue of January 1999, Pead continued:

“One would have thought this connection [with the Toronto Blessing] alone sufficient to alert Catholic bishops and priests to keep their distance from Alpha; to dissuade them from flirting with ‘angels of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

“Alas, such is their general loss of faith and blind panic at the massive yearly decline in the Catholic population that our shepherds have rolled out the red carpet instead. Bishop Ambrose Griffiths of Hex-ham and Newcastle, who says that church attendance in his diocese ‘has been going down on a straight line graph for the last 25 years,’ has embraced Alpha with uncanny zeal.”

And so have many other prelates, including the late Basil Cardinal Hume and Bishop Donald Konstant, the UK’s pre-eminent catechetical “expert” who oversaw the demolition of religious education in Britain during the postconciliar period, Archbishop Adam Exner of Vancouver, B.C., among others.

Three years ago, Catholics in the English-speaking world were put on notice that Alpha, with its “Catholic” add-on “elements,” was dangerous — specifically by Gillian Van Der Lande in Christian Order, January 1999.

She opened her essay with an admission she had participated in the program.

“As a Catholic who has participated in full in an Alpha course in a Catholic parish and who has viewed, read, and studied the course materials, my short answer to the above question [about whether the program is Catholic] is an unequivocal ‘No,’ she wrote.

“The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, by commission and omission, the Alpha material proposes an ecclesiology and a sacramental theology contrary in essence to the teaching of the Church.

“Secondly, the underlying principle of the methodology used in the small group discussions held after each of the 15 Alpha video sessions, acts against the principle of religious freedom upheld by the Church. The questions are formatted in such a way as to elicit responses from subjective criteria alone. This does not respect and protect the right of participants to freely answer and clarify points from the objective criteria of the Church’s teaching when the need arises. Thus, in effect, it silences that teaching and encourages the Alpha ‘magisterium’ to stand, develop, and be absorbed.”

In his letter encouraging Alpha, Archbishop Flynn asserts that the program is “a well-thought-out approach . . . to reach those outside the Church,” and adds: “More Catholic churches in our area are using the course and are seeing lives changed as a result.” He also says it “is aimed at those who are not currently churchgoers.”

Alpha’s official “questions and answers” on the use of the copyrighted program remind users that:

— “Catholic Alpha uses the Alpha course as it stands.”

— “On the question of sacraments, Alpha is seriously deficient from a Catholic point of view. There is only recognition of Baptism and the Eucharist explicitly,” and quotes program designer Nicky Gumbel: “Teaching on the sacraments is limited, in the sense that we only teach in Alpha what all the major denominations and traditions are agreed about…”

As Van Der Lande observed: The key book Questions of Life by Nicky Gumbel is recommended as course reading. It contains all these errors and many more written in a plausible and readable style. This unqualified recommendation, in itself, reinforces this Protestant teaching as being acceptable.

Unless error is corrected at the time when Alpha is used in a Catholic context, the error stands and, inevitably, is absorbed by some present. That then becomes the launching pad for that person. That, in my experience, is what happened on the Alpha course I attended. The errors were left to stand and the methodology laid down in the Team Training… My experience was of received hostility to any form of clarification and defense of the Church’s teaching in relation to the teaching proposed by Nicky Gumbel, a teaching that was not Catholic in essence. Such a clarification and defense was labeled ‘negative.’ This would seem to deny the principle of religious freedom upheld by the Church. It is of great concern that Alpha should introduce such methodology into any parish, let alone a Catholic parish.”

Alpha recognizes only one priesthood, “The priesthood of all believers” (p. 230). The priest is the “elder” of the community, “a leader in the church” but “not a sacrificing priest.” The “Eucharist” then is reduced to merely “the Lord’s Supper” and is most emphatically not a “sacrifice.”

“As regards the Sacrament of Baptism,” Van Der Lande continues, “it is regarded as being a visible mark of being ‘a member of the Church’ and ‘a visible sign of what it means to be a Christian’ in that ‘it signifies cleansing from sin, dying, and rising with Christ to a new life and the living water which the Holy Spirit brings to our lives’ (Questions of Life, p. 221). Alpha’s teaching understands Baptism in terms of a Church membership ritual alone that does not confer but rather confirms something that has already taken place. I say this in that Alpha understands that the Holy Spirit is received prior to Baptism when a person commits himself or herself publicly to Christ and hands are laid on them, by committed Christians, Alpha leaders, lay or clerical, to invoke the coming down of the Holy Spirit.”

Speaking In Tongues

Alpha’s link to the Toronto Blessing is highlighted by its emphasis on “speaking in tongues.”

Van Der Lande writes that “people are told to pray and ask for this gift according to a certain format. ‘Open your mouth and start to praise God in any language but English or any other language known to you’ and ‘Believe that what you receive is from God. Don’t let anyone tell you that you made it up’ (ibid., p. 147). The leaders on the Alpha weekends are asked to pray for people to receive the gift of tongues ‘not because it is the most important gift but because the Alpha course is a beginner’s course and the gift of tongues is [considered a] beginner’s gift… Both in the Bible and in experience it is often the first obviously supernatural gift of the Spirit which people receive’ (Telling Others, Nicky Gumbel, p. 129).”

Van Der Lande’s insight and experience are not unique. Fundamentalist Protestants who are suspicious of the program because Roman Catholics have embraced it, have published hundreds of negative, critical assessments of the program, one of which, published by Mainstream, begins:

“A woman has walked out of her church and is holding services in her living room, because she says she cannot bring herself to ‘snort like a pig and bark like a dog’ on a Church of England course.

“Angie Golding, 50, claims she was denied confirmation unless she signed up for the Alpha course, which she says is a ‘brainwashing’ exercise where participants speak in tongues, make animal noises, and then fall over.

“She left the evangelical St. Mark’s in Broadwater Down, Kent, with 14 members of the congregation and founded a church at home in Tunbridge Wells. She said, ‘I’ll be a fool for the Lord any day, but won’t be a fool for a man’,” reported the summer 1996 issue of Mainstream.

Personal Experience

Having analyzed the program from its own promotional materials, Van Der Lande then described her Alpha day experience: “I attended the course ‘Alpha Day in the Spirit.’ After the three video sessions, lunch, and two small group discussion sessions we were invited to be prayed over by the Alpha leaders and helpers. I am afraid I sought sanctuary in the church at that point, so sickened was I at the sight of lay leaders advancing to pray over others, rub their backs, and cradle their heads. I do not know therefore if anyone received the gift of speaking in tongues and whether this was facilitated by the leaders or not. I returned to find another fugitive who was a convert from a Pentecostal Church in America. She was sickened too, having left that form of church to join the Catholic Church. She did not return to complete the Alpha course. That day of the Holy Spirit did not begin with Mass even though the parish priest was a helper. It did not even include a visit to the church of the venue, a shrine dedicated to our Lady. We did not even pray the Hail Mary, but of course our Lady is not part of Alpha and there is implicit rejection in Alpha of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady.”

Among the components of the “Catholic” add-on “elements” of the program are two tapes, Why Should I Listen to the Church? and Why Bother Going to Mass?

Both will give little reason for an affirmative answer and, indeed, may leave the viewer with reasons to think there are no convincing reasons to either listen to the Church or go to Mass.

The Program

In March 1998, Catholic Alastair Emblem offered a bit of positive publicity on Alpha, in an article titled, “Alpha: The Start of Something Big?” for InUnity, the web site of the Catholic Charismatic Movement in the UK.

“One of the most outstanding signs of revival [of Christianity in England],” he wrote, “is the Alpha course, a ten-week introduction to basic Christianity which is growing so fast and wide that it is difficult to grasp the true extent of its impact . . .

“In addition, the growth in international courses is now starting to follow the same explosive pattern. In 1997 there were 1,200 international courses running, and currently there are at least 67 countries running Alpha, including Russia and many other former Communist countries in Eastern Europe… What is behind all the impressive statistics? Essentially, nothing new — in fact at heart it is exactly the same as happened at the beginning of the Church: the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. The essential message of Christianity is presented in a clear, compelling, and vibrant way which makes it accessible and relevant to the needs of the 20th century. The format of the course has been developed and refined over a number of years, and includes five essential characteristics: A is for Anyone interested in finding out more about the Christian faith. Everyone is welcome. L is for Learning and laughter. It is possible to learn about the Christian faith and have fun at the same time. The talks are all available on video, presented by Rev. Nicky Gumbel in a relaxed, amusing, yet highly informative and compelling style. P is for Pasta and pudding. Eating a meal together at the start of their meeting gives people an opportunity to get to know each other, and develops important community and social links. H is for Helping one another. Small groups after each week’s presentation give you a chance to discuss issues raised in the talks. A is for Ask anything. Alpha is a place where no question is regarded as too simple or hostile.”

A contrary view was expressed by Stephen Sizer*, the Anglican rector of St. John’s Stoke, near Guildford, who has become extremely concerned about the New Age and charismatic origins of Alpha, which he has traced back to the Toronto Blessing and the Word of Faith Movement, and even to revived ancient gnostic heresies. *see page 135ff

Sizer writes:

“The Word of Faith movement, also known as the ‘Faith’ movement, represents a group of powerful and influential neo-Pentecostal church leaders and televangelists who, through their broadcasts, reach several hundred million viewers worldwide every week (Ankerberg & Weldon, 1990, p. 9). They include Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Rodney Howard-Browne, Benny Hinn, Maurice Cerullo, and David Yonggi Cho. Central to their teaching is the concept that ‘faith’ is a force that once appropriated, unlocks the universe, and God’s blessing. These men and their disciples like Rodney Howard-Browne are influencing many church leaders in Britain who have embraced their heretical ideas. The ‘Faith’ Movement believes that the human mind and tongue contain a supernatural ability or power. When a person speaks expressing his faith in supposedly divine laws, his positive thoughts and positive verbal expression allegedly produce a ‘divine force’ that will heal, produce wealth, bring success, and in other ways influence the environment. According to the ‘Faith’ teachers, God automatically responds and accomplishes what we command when we positively confess our needs and desires in faith (Ankerberg and Weldon, 1993, P.6). Benny Hinn, infamous for his claim that God revealed to him that there are nine in the Trinity, is representative of the ‘Faith Movement,’ and coincidentally worked in Toronto for many years. He has had a profound influence on the Church through his flamboyant ministry, unorthodox theological speculations, and extra-biblical revelations… John Wimber’s Vineyard Movement shows similarities with the ‘Faith’ teachers. It has taught that the Western church needs a major paradigm shift in worldview from one that is rationalistic and ‘Book’ centered, to a more supernatural and experience related stance. Thus Wimber’s emphasis has shifted from proclamation of the Word of God to a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power — hence his ‘power evangelism’ and ‘power healing’ (Jo Gardner and Rachel Tingle, ‘Ticket to Toronto’ The Churchman, vol. 109, n. 1, 1995).

Similarly, under the heading ‘Purple Haze: The Inducement of Mental Minimalism,’ Alan Mom-son*
traces the gnosticism and anti-intellectualism of some elements of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, and in particular that of John Wimber. For example, former Quaker and rock guitarist John Wimber… openly advocates a ‘paradigm shift’ away from thinking with Western logic into the exclusively experimental way of Oriental thinking — a concept thoroughly in line with the mystical ideology of the New Gnosticism.” © The Wanderer Press

*It should read as Morrison- Michael

5. Bad Directions

http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2006/0603ltrs.asp

Why are so many Catholics turning to people such as Rick Warren for “spiritual nourishment” (“Wrong Turn,” December 2005)? Even in our own little country of New Zealand, new pastors and churches pop up at regular intervals. What Warren is preaching sounds very much like Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity (Church of England) in London and his “Alpha Course,” which has been going since 1990 and is now preached about in many countries. One English commentator who did one of these courses, because it had been given the go ahead by some Catholic parishes, made this comment: “Catholics beware.”

The Church’s main concerns lie with the Alpha Course’s treatment of the sacraments and its promotion of a Church united by spirit rather than shared faith. It teaches that revelation is based on the Bible alone. Gumbel reduces church to “simply a gathering of Christians who get together to worship God, hear what God is saying to them, and make friends.” Catholicism is presented as just one of many denominations in a “universal church.”
Trevor Collins Northland, New Zealand

6. CATHOLIC ANSWERS FORUM

A. Alpha
Course
http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=189007

In response to my enquiry about whether Catholics may use Alpha, Steve Ray, Catholic apologist, had sent me the above link.

QUESTION:

Are you familiar with the Alpha course and if so, is it something Catholics should become involved in? Telame, October 5, 2007

POSTING 1: If you are looking for a beginner’s class in Christianity for Catholics, look no further than your parish’s RCIA Catechesis program. The Alpha course is a Christian beginner basics class that purports to present “mere Christianity” in a way that is acceptable to all denominations. (Personally, I doubt that this is even possible.)
jmcrae, October 5, 2007

POSTING 2: Another resource on the Alpha Course, from the Australian Marian Academy of the Immaculate Conception:
ALPHA UNSCRAMBLED
AMAIC has a number of very good analyses of modernist problems on this site. JohnPaulTwoTwo
October 9, 2007


POSTING 3: Every Catholic that I know that has taken the Alpha Course is now not in line with church teaching. Take that for what it’s worth. Seatuck, October 10, 2007

POSTING 4: I believe it. Everyone I know either dropped out of the program early because they couldn’t stand to hear all of the misinformation, or ended up joining the Centre Street Church (an evangelical organization associated with the Baptists) and leaving the Catholic Church because they were taught in Alpha that the Catholic Church “adds on” to the essential Gospel message (because when presenting the Alpha course, Catholic Churches have to use a package that says right on the box, “Catholic Add-Ons”). jmcrae, October 10, 2007

B. Alpha
Program use in Catholic Church
http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=1500

QUESTION:

Our Parish is looking to start an Alpha Program to attract the “non-churched” in our town. This is a Protestant based program but tries to stick to “Basic Christianity” in its presentations. There are presentations that don’t square with Catholic principles and I think should be addressed. Our group, being modern Catholics, seems to lean toward being “ecumenical” and letting the people decide what denomination to attend after, as long as they “know Jesus” type attitude. Anybody out there use this program? What kind of adjustments do you make, if any, to conform to Catholic teaching? dadx6,
June 2, 2004

POSTING 1: The Alpha program is a British Church of England (Evangelical) program. I attended the program as a guest at my local Anglican church when I heard that our local Catholic Church was going to use it.
Nicky Gumbel the author has made it clear that under the copyright any Church using the program must use it in its entirety. That is why Catholic alpha at the end of the course uses two videos to supplement the program. So for example under the copyright you can not change any mistakes you find.
When I was on the program I started to find many problems from the Catholic point of view. The main book which is used is “Questions of Life” and you use this through the program. In chapter 4 is the Evangelical teaching that you are assured of eternal life with Jesus. In chapter 11 it gives a rule that Christians can only marry other Christians, obviously this is preferable but not a rigid rule in the Catholic Church. In chapter 14 it mentions that Church does not mean one specific denomination and also that the Pentecostal churches success in South America is due to the fact that they are laity led and not pulpit or altar led. Worst of all in the same chapter it talks about Holy Communion. The bread and wine “represents” the body and blood of Jesus.
I phoned a few Catholic parishes which used this course and asked them how they dealt with the errors and the universal reply was “what errors?”
There are a large range of Alpha books and in one I picked up it said that the Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage is wrong.
This program has been controversial in a few Catholic circles but also in some Church of England circles because of its Evangelical bias.

But remember most of all that Nicky Gumbel has said that if you use this program you must use it in its entirety.
We Catholics should come up with our own good programs and I do believe that a certain Scott Hahn has one up and running. Robin Hood June 2, 2004

POSTING 2: Posted by Seanie on catholic-convert.com board:

It’s not Catholic. It’s a Protestant course with a Catholic bit at the end.
I wrote this in the past, but it’s worth repeating:
There’s:
-no mention of the Catholic understanding of Sacraments,
-no teaching on the teaching authority of the Church,
-no mention of Mary, of the Mass as a sacrifice,
-no mention of the sacraments other than Baptism and Eucharist,
-no room for the Magisterium of the Catholic Church,
-no room for any distinctly Catholic teaching,
-no room for Sacred Tradition,
-no guidance on how to know truth from error (instead, everything is subjective; people are asked what they think! Forget about objective truth!)


Nicky Gumbel says in one place that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are:
“totally insignificant compared to the things that unite us…we need to UNITE around the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus; the absolute essential things at the core of the Christian faith on which we are all agreed. We need to give people liberty to disagree on the things which are secondary.” (Session 13 White Alpha training manual pp 63-68 Video V Talk 14.)
In other words Gumbel is saying that only those doctrines which Catholics and Protestants agree on are primary, and those they disagree on are “the things which are secondary”! If this is the case, then I invite Nicky Gumbel to join the Catholic Church without delay; he will surely have no objection, if he thinks the Catholic Church’s only differences with his beliefs are “secondary”. This of course is nonsense; the differences are anything but “totally insignificant”; they are very real and denying they exist will not help anyone.
In actual fact, even by Gumbel’s definition of unity, we are NOT united around the death and resurrection of Jesus, as Protestants in general have an erroneous view of the atonement of Christ which is not compatible with the Catholic teaching. And what view of the death and resurrection of Jesus are we supposed to unite around, considering the fact that Catholic magisterial authority has no place in Alpha? The Protestant view, of course.
The real aim of the Alpha course it seems is to get everyone to believe in a sort of “lowest common denominator” of Christianity, with nobody causing any offense about doctrinal issues (in other words, “let’s have unity at the expense of truth”), and everyone believing just some of the absolute basics, but leaving out issues like authority, the nature of justification, grace, the Sacraments, and so on.
In another place, Nicky Gumbel writes:
“we make it a rule on Alpha never to criticise another denomination, another Christian church or a Christian leader.” (Telling Others, p114).
So, that’s why I say the Alpha Course isn’t Catholic. God bless, seanie. beng, June 5, 2004

C. Alpha Ministries – 10 Part Series http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=110069

QUESTION:

My parish is running a 10-part series put on by Alpha and taught by a guy named Nicky Gumbel. The series seems awfully Protestant in nature, and sells one of those “least common denominator” type of messages – “It’s all about Jesus, right?” The absence of content about the Sacraments, the Church, the Magisterium, etc., troubles me, and I am curious if anyone has attended one of these programs for Catholics, or knows more about this group? The website is www.alpha.org. cjaubert, September 18, 2006

POSTING 1: There do seem to be some Catholics who don’t like Alpha. They make for interesting reading and make some good points: http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha1.htm
The second page may be better and gives proper references: http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/alpha2.htm
I can’t comment too much as when I did an Alpha course it was in an Anglican church. And sat in on part of a course being run for actors in Soho. However, the Catholic Alpha course is meant to take the course “as is”. Given its lack of mention of many key issues about the Church and the Catholic life that may cause problems. If the videos by Nicky Gumbel are used, rather than having a Catholic teacher talk then the problems would be increased.
It’s not only that the things distinctive to Catholicism are left out to be covered in another course. It is that some things contrary to Catholicism are included. Things concerning the nature of the Church, the priesthood, the sacraments, etc.

If Gumbel’s talks aren’t used (they don’t have to be) then whoever is leading could give correct teaching on these things, stick within the outline of the course and make it thoroughly Catholic. If his talks are used there will be errors.
There may be other problems when you consider that Gumbel presents a pretty specific pentecostal perspective on the charismatic gifts. In his talks Gumbel presents a picture of Christianity that almost says “come to Jesus, you’ll have a problem free life” (that’s a criticism from a friend who is a Presbyterian minister).
Anyway, that’s all been negative. There are good things about Alpha. But there must be a more Catholic alternative that’s better. asteroid, September 18, 2006

POSTING 2: Article 1324 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”
Further, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, “The celebration of the Mass . . . is for the universal and the local Church, as well as for each person, the center of the whole Christian life.”


As far as I can tell (and I would most certainly appreciate correction if I am wrong or misinformed), the Alpha course makes only a passing reference to the Eucharist (and never says it is source and summit of Christian life), and does not mention the Mass as the center of the whole Christian life at all. My question is, if the Alpha course is truly designed to help Catholics, how can it omit an analysis of the Eucharist – the source and summit of Christian life – and the Mass – the center of the whole Christian life?

POSTING 3: If one does not live by bread alone, but by EVERY word that comes forth from the mouth of God, how is it possible for more than one Church to have the FULLNESS of truth?
cjaubert, September 21, 2006

D. And that’s when I walked out of mass
http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=128793

QUESTION:

Background: One of my pet peeves with my church is their blind fascination with “The Alpha Course.” I think this was the first thing that brought me to the Catholic Answers forum. I would see the same banners hanging at the local Presbyterian or Episcopal churches and wonder why my Catholic church was promoting this.
I once posted a thread here on CAF asking about Alpha, and the responses were along the lines of, “oh, they’re must be OK, the bishop allowed it.” or “I’ve heard they’re ok” or, “they have website, go check it out.” I’m in no way slighting anyone who answered, but I continued looking for information from a Catholic point of view.
The first Catholic opinion I found on this was at this link: http://www.angelfire.com/ms/seanie/alpha.html
A very committed Catholic lists what he believes are faults with the Alpha Course and asks the simple question: We have a catechism, why not learn it? He also brings up the disturbing fact that anything even slightly Catholic was added to the alpha course as an afterthought.
Here, below, direct from the Alpha course home page, under “Teaching Alpha in a Catholic Context” are recommendations by a number of Catholic priests. Again, not one mention of a sacrament, Pope, church tradition, Mary, etc. I ask you is there anything they said that could not have been said by any other clergyman in any of the 30,000 brands of Protestantism? (I’m assuming there’s some reason two of those priests are not wearing collars?) http://alpha.org/catholics/running/priest/default.htm
There are numerous Alpha detractors among many Christian pastors, especially non-denominational evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Baptists, but I won’t list them here because I’m trying to remain focused on Catholics and Alpha. So anyway, as for the title of the thread, my wife had warned me on the way out the door, “Watch out, they’re pushing Alpha again!” (she and the other daughter were in music ministry at earlier masses) and when my daughter and I reached the church, there was the 20 foot banner proclaiming “ALPHA IS HERE” but I trudged on anyway, not letting it get me down… until the end of mass, when we had all received Communion and were silent and awaiting the final blessing, the priest said, “we now have a few words from someone organizing the Alpha course.” And while this person began proclaiming the benefits of this course, I told my daughter to get her coat on we were leaving. I hated to do it, but I felt like I had to. And as we walked out, the Alpha rep at the door tried to give me a brochure!
So, I felt I needed to write this down. I may sound “anti-ecumenical”, but as a guy who never had a decent catechism, and now is trying to raise a Catholic family, I echo the man whose link is above, “Why alpha? Why not use the Catechism of the Catholic Church? max37 January 15, 2007

POSTING 1: The Alpha course is a 15-session practical introduction to the Christian faith designed primarily for non-churchgoers and new Christians. The course also serves as a refresher course for both practising Catholics and those who have lapsed in their faith. From early on, Alpha has been run in Catholic parishes. ‘Alpha for Catholics’ involves the situating of the standard Alpha course within a Catholic parish or organisation. Alpha is a very effective initial presentation of the core of the Gospel, ‘the Kerygma’. It is wholly compatible with Catholic teaching, but it does not address specific Catholic teachings and ecclesiology. It does not seek to be a substitute for catechetical programmes. Rather, it works best as part of an overall parish programme of evangelisation or catechesis. The Alpha course works best as part of an ongoing process of catechesis within a church. There is a range of different follow-up materials and courses available to help people to grow in their faith. http://alpha.org/catholics/running/w…ha/default.htm
What I am not grasping here is WHY a Catholic Church needs an ALPHA program. If the purpose of ALPHA is to be a refresher course on Catholicism, then why not teach the CCC instead… give the people what they really need not some made up program that does not even address certain Catholic Teachings.
Karin

POSTING 2: Karin, thanks for the information. Now that I know what it’s about, I too don’t understand why the Catholic Church needs other resources when we have the Catechism! That’s just wonderful. Lucania

POSTING 3: Sadly, in the “spirit” of ecumenism, we tend to allow for too much “handholding” and not enough constructive teaching. Ahh that we could only clone Fr. Corapi. MrS

POSTING 4: There are much better products than Alpha to promote the “kerygma” experience, such as Zacchaeus and Light of the World Retreat, Cursillo, etc. To me, it’s comparable to opening a Catholic school and using Bob Jones or the more fundamentalists’ curricula.
OutinChgoburbs

POSTING 5: I have to confess I fight the urge to actually “vandalize” the banner. Under where it says:
“ALPHA IS HERE!” I have the terrible urge to write: Your quickest way to becoming a Presbyterian!


By the grace of God I haven’t done that. max37

POSTING 6: In Why and How Do I Pray? do they talk about Contemplative Prayer and other forms of specifically CATHOLIC Prayer?
In Why and How Should I Read the Bible? are they teaching Catholics Lectio Divina, that Catholics should breathe scripture in as a prayer, reading it aloud?
And, In What About the Church? do they talk about Holy Orders and Apostolic Succession and their roots in the Old Covenant?
And, What about the Divine Liturgy and how Heaven and Earth are United in the Divine Liturgy while the priest stands in persona Christi offering that Unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass to God the Father while he and the worshippers are united with Christ on the Cross at Calvary.
I would much rather that Catholics learn the richness of the Catholic faith and Tradition than be propagandized by a watered-down form of Protestantism. Your Brother in Christ, Michael, January 15, 2007

D. Potential Convert –
Alpha Course
Concerns‎

http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=309659

QUESTION:

I’m an Anglican who wants to convert to Catholicism. A long story so I’ll skip the boring part.
I recently decided to take the plunge and try RCIA, but the church I’m attending mass at has a planned ‘pathway’ which starts with the Alpha Course and then moves on to a kind of Catholicism 101.
Although a little suspicious of Alpha, I attended the first session last week. It was OK, a pleasant meal and conversation followed by a DVD of Nicky Gumbel talking (reminded me totally of all the Anglican vicars I’d grown up listening to), finished off with a talk in a circle on the theme ‘Christianity – Boring, Untrue, Irrelevant?’
So far so good, but I’m very concerned about the weekend retreat on the Holy Spirit and the whole ‘speaking in tongues’ thing – I thought that kind of behaviour was for the Pentecostals!
At the first session it seemed to be pretty harmless though. Although the course coordinator is a layperson, the Priest was present at all times and chaired the discussions.
I’m feeling very unsure about the whole thing. My wife thinks they are using brainwashing techniques and is worried about me becoming one of those ‘Creepy Christians’ as she put it.
I’m not sure whether I should continue with the course or find another church that does a regular beginner’s class. The thing is the people at my current church are a really warm and friendly bunch.
Does anybody here have experience with Alpha in a Catholic context? Anybody here convert to Catholicism after attending the Alpha Course? Your thoughts and advice are much appreciated newCon February 9, 2009

Allow me to elaborate – I was raised in a Church of England home and went to CofE schools from the age of 5-13 or so. My mother dragged me to church most Sundays until I was old enough to rebel
When I began going to the Catholic church last year I hadn’t been to worship in around 20 years. Seeing as I’d found my way back to Christianity again I wanted to start all over, ignoring my childhood experiences. That’s why I thought the Alpha Course may be a good idea – going in as a total beginner and re-learning everything.
The first session was fun enough, but after digging a bit deeper on the Internet, I’m worried about Alpha’s connections to Charismatic Protestant teachings. I want to join the Catholic Church after all!
My wife’s ‘Creepy Christians’ comment was in reference to people speaking in tongues, falling over, having convulsions and wailing… all that kind of stuff. She’s all for regular (i.e. non-hysterical) worship but weary of the ‘evangelical guys who do stadium tours’ and the like.
The ‘brainwashing’ comment was in reference to the Alpha Course techniques. Why does everybody have a meal first and then passively watch a DVD? Why does everybody have to go away for the weekend to a closed, controlled environment where they’re coerced into ‘receiving the Holy Spirit’? Doesn’t that sound like the techniques used by cults? I think she may have a point…
I’m also very curious as to how they do the transition from what sounds like a born-again feel good gathering to the teachings of the Catholic Church. I grew up with traditional CofE churches – religion and communion was something reverent, studious, genteel in a way. So you can understand why I’m reticent about throwing myself into something that seems so modern and outside my experience. The thing I love about Catholicism is the feeling you’re connecting to something much older, wiser and bigger than yourself with a rich history and traditions. I’m currently inclined to think that Alpha is missing these altogether.
Anyways, the second session is tonight. Part of me thinks I should go check it out and take up all my concerns with the priest running the course, the other part thinks I should forget it all and try another church.
I’d also like to share some of the sites I’ve found with you:
Alpha experiences, testimonials, thoughts, criticisms –


http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/loved/ent…stianity_as_a/
http://www.pfo.org/alpha-cr.htm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardia…ekend7.weekend
Alpha Course talks in full from Holy Trinity Brompton, London (the Anglican church where the course began):
http://www.htb.org.uk/media/media/all/all/alpha/all
newCon February 10, 2009

POSTING 1: I think you are right in your concerns. I am embarrassed that my Catholic church offers Alpha at all. As I once said in these forums, Alpha is a great way for a Catholic to become protestant. (yes, it bothered some people). There is really nothing in the Alpha course that deals (correctly) with the Sacraments in the Catholic Church. After receiving that complaint, they tried to address that with a “Catholic version” of the Alpha Course. I’m sure the originator has great intentions and he has probably brought some people to Christ. But since he doesn’t believe in Confession or the Real Presence in the Eucharist, he certainly isn’t going to include it in his course. So why not go directly to the teachings of the Catholic church?
max37
February 10, 2009

I have selected to include only those Catholic Answers postings which are not in favour of Alpha- Michael

CATHOLIC ALPHA IN INDIA

Catholic bishops learn about Alpha course

http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=14463
June 11, 2009

More than 20 Catholic archbishops and bishops from across the world have been attending an international conference in London this week to learn about one of the most well-known evangelisation programmes in England and Wales: the Alpha course. The clergy gathered in London for the ‘Alpha
International Conference‘ which included over 1500 representatives from a hundred countries.
The bishops came from, among others countries, France, Columbia, Mexico, India*, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Costa Rica. As there were so many Catholic delegates at the event – more than 250 – a Mass was offered at Westminster Cathedral by Most Rev Luis Augosto Castro Quiroga (Archbishop of Tunja, Columbia and Coordinator of the Continental Mission). This was followed by a reception at Clergy House, with representatives from the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, including the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation (CASE).
Rt. Rev. Thomas McMahon, Bishop of Brentwood, who hosted the gathering, said: “Alpha is the most marvellous tool for evangelisation. Alpha serves to bring faith alive and to me that is the most important thing in the world, because if a person’s faith and belief in Jesus becomes ‘real’ as opposed to ‘notional’ then you see the whole of life differently.”
Kitty-Kay Shuttleworth, Alpha for Catholics Director, said: “Alpha is running in thousands of Catholic parishes all over the world and the presence of the archbishops and bishops this week is a sign of how the course is growing throughout the Roman Catholic Church worldwide. It is thrilling that so many Bishops, priests and laity were able to be here and attend the special Mass at Westminster Cathedral.”
The Alpha course was started in an Anglican church and is used across the denominations as a parish tool for evangelisation; it aims to provide an introduction to the Christian faith. To date 13 million people have attended the course in over 160 countries.  *ARCHBISHOP VINCENT CONCESSAO OF DELHI WAS A DELEGATE-MICHAEL

Alpha course strengthens faith

http://www.ucanews.com/2010/03/26/alpha-course-strengthens-missioners%E2%80%99-faith/
March 26, 2010

GUWAHATI, India (UCAN) A three-member Malaysian lay team concluded a three-day Alpha Course on March 25 on a new evangelization method in Guwahati, northeastern India. Some 100 priests and nuns working in Guwahati archdiocese attended the course, which helps people explore the meaning of life and the Christian faith.

Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati [in picture]
invited the Malaysian team to animate the Church community in his archdiocese. The Salesian prelate, who attended the course earlier, told UCA News he found the Alpha members’ convictions about their faith “very strong and their pedagogy good.”

According to the Alpha Course website, more than 13 million people worldwide have attended the course so far. The normal course is conducted in a relaxed setting over “ten thought-provoking weekly sessions, with a day or weekend away,” it adds.

Notre Dame Sister Mallika Toppo, who attended the March 23-25 course, said it has renewed her faith and emboldened her to proclaim Christ. “It helps the local Church as it transforms people and fills them with the power of the spirit,” explained the tribal nun, who was recently posted to the archdiocese for pastoral work in villages.

Divine Providence Sister Lilly, another participant, said the course deepened her commitment to pastoral ministry. She, however, felt the course does not offer “an easy method to introduce Jesus to those who have not known him”.

Father Nazarene Acharya, an elderly missioner, said he saw the course as a “simple method of evangelization” that the local Church has to adapt to its situation.

Soosay Anthony, 52, a member of the Malaysian team, said he was introduced to the course in 2005 and it helped transform him into a Christ-centric person from a Sunday Catholic.

Anita Sennyam, 40, another team member, said the course strengthens and reinvigorates her life. “Every time I attend, the course has an electrifying effect on me. I get new messages every time,” she told UCA News.

Damian Prakash, 22, the youngest member of the team, said God has pushed him into the ministry. “I find the course changing many lives. It is an effective tool for evangelization especially in tribal areas,” he claimed.

The Alpha course is a 10-week practical introduction to the Christian faith designed primarily for non-committed and new Christians. Most sessions are held in the evening where a subject central to the Christian faith is discussed. Participants break into groups for further discussion. In India, the course is also held in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai archdioceses.

FROM THE ALPHA INDIA WEB SITE

1. Alpha
in a Catholic context

http://www.alphaindia.org/catholics

The Alpha Course in a Catholic Context is an opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith in a relaxed manner over ten, thought-provoking weekly sessions. It also serves as a refresher course for practicing Catholics or for those who have lapsed in their faith and want to clarify their thoughts about belief.

Alpha for Catholics is run in thousands of Catholic parishes around the world, hosted either by the parish priest or a lay member of the parish.

“In my opinion Alpha accomplishes an incredible task, in making people interested in faith and in making faith relevant to the modern man. I especially appreciate the ecumenical spirit of the Alpha course: There is no pressure on anybody to join a different denomination, but just to join Jesus and to put Jesus at the centre.” – Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household

“I was introduced to Alpha only recently. Since then I have tried to understand the method of the Alpha course and have realized the effectiveness of this course to bring Jesus Christ into the lives of numerous people and that too in a very systematic manner. Alpha has opened up an important dimension in the whole process of evangelization. I believe Alpha can revitalize the faith of those who follow Christ but have lost the spark within. And more importantly it can bring the message of Christ powerfully to all those who are seeking and longing for the truth.” –  Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi
[picture above]

Click here [catholics@alphaindia.org] to email the Alpha for Catholics team.

For any futher [sic] information regarding Alpha for Catholics Course please contact Mr. Mathew Anthony [sic] at matts4christ@gmail.com.

2. ALPHA INDIA NEWS October – December 2009

http://www.alphaindia.org/sites/www.alphaindia.org/files/091005_AlphaIndiaNews_Email_Version_pagebypage.pdf
THREE EXTRACTS:

A. ARCHBISHOP VINCENT CONCESSAO OF NEW DELHI SPEAKING AT THE ALPHA INTERNATIONAL WEEK [HELD IN LONDON, JUNE 2009. SEE PREVIOUS PAGE- MICHAEL]

This is a sign of great hope for the church and humankind. This is what I see in Alpha. Thank you, Nicky. Thanks to all those who are associated with this work. May God make Alpha really fruitful in bringing about a new world.

B. Alpha running in a Catholic Parish after Nicky Gumbel meets with leaders in Mumbai

Earlier this year, Nicky Gumbel traveled to Mumbai to introduce the Alpha course to the city’s Catholic leaders.

Though the meeting was small, it inspired leaders such as Bishop Agnelo Gracias, the auxiliary Bishop of Bombay, and Fr. Pravin Fernandes, who works within the archdiocese. An Alpha course has now started in Fr. Pravin’s parish, and he is planning more courses once the first round is completed.

Fr. Pravin: As I look back on the recent events and the splendid progress of the first Alpha course in my parish, I feel convinced that our meeting at the Birla Hall with Nicky Gumbel and the entire Catholic Outreach team was providential. At the invitation of Bishop Agnelo Gracias, I took the initiative and was able to get 56 people to join.

…I hope to continue this ministry and God willing will start another group at the conclusion of this one. I also feel enthused to take this programme to other parts of India and (I am probably dreaming) to other parts of Asia.

C. New Adviser for Catholic work: Matthew Anthony

Matthew Anthony [sic] is the Secretary to the Commission for Evangelisation in the Diocese of Delhi, and is a key adviser for Catholic Alpha work in North India.

Mr. Anthony’s key responsibility as Secretary is the promotion of evangelisation activities within and outside the Catholic Church. He is encouraging a number of different programmes for evangelisation, including the Alpha course which that diocese has specifically endorsed.

Mr. Anthony conducts training on a church by church basis and is available to assist parishes and churches wanting to begin Alpha courses. He can be contacted through the Alpha India National Office or by email at matts4christ@gmail.com.

3. ALPHA INDIA NEWS April – June 2010

http://www.alphaindia.org/sites/www.alphaindia.org/files/100412_AlphaIndiaNews_APRIL2010_web.pdf

TWO EXTRACTS:

A. ALPHA IN THE CATHOLIC CONTEXT. REPORT BY MATTHEW ANTHONY, ALPHA ADVISER FOR THE CATHOLIC CONTEXT IN INDIA

In Mumbai, we had a training for about 40 people from different parts of the Diocese. They have all been involved with Alpha for some time and after the training they formed coordination teams for different areas/zones of the diocese. I am sure it will really take off well from there on.

In Goa we had 46 delegates including lay and religious leaders and they were introduced to the Alpha course. They showed much enthusiasm for the course and here again it is endorsed by Archbishop Philip Neri. Though he was not there, since he was travelling, he sent his blessings and encouragement to the participants through a letter which was read out to all of us. Here again after the programme the participants were broken up into zones and there is a coordinating body which will push the Alpha course forward.

We have one more Alpha pilot-run scheduled for Guwahati 23-25th of March.

Archbishop Thomas Menamparambil, Archbishop of Guwahati, is the initiator. He is a key voice for evangelization in the Catholic world. He was one of the persons involved in drafting the Pope’s document on evangelization in Asia – Ecclesia in Asia.

B. GAT REPORT, SHILLONG, MEGHALAYA

Report by Alpha Coordinator for Assam and Meghalaya, Ranjit De

The four-day Global Alpha Training (GAT) began on 9th March at the Nepali Christian Fellowship… We had 124 delegates in attendance, and they represented 23 different denominations/churches.

The opening address was given by Fr. Rev. Devasia Vazhayil from Nongshilliang Parish Roman Catholic Church

http://www.alphaindia.org/who-is-it-for

Over 3,500 courses are currently running across India
in rural and urban settings, including every major city.

The courses are run in 12 Indian languages, as well as in English [http://www.alphaindia.org/who-is-it-for].

In India, Prison Alpha has been successfully run in Mumbai, Orissa, Karnataka, Bihar and new courses are being organised elsewhere [http://www.alphaindia.org/prisons].

The Marriage Course is a series of eight sessions designed to help any married couple strengthen their relationship. It’s a great opportunity to spend time together as a couple, looking at the important issues in your marriage. The Marriage Course is very practical and will help equip you with the tools needed to build a healthy marriage that lasts a lifetime.

Each week you are given the opportunity to enjoy a special meal together and listen to a talk. Then there is plenty of time to discuss the topic as a couple. There is no group work involved at any stage of the course.

The Marriage Course is now being run in India and we hope you will be able to find one at a church near you.

The course was started by Nicky and Sila Lee in 1996. The Lees are on the staff at Holy Trinity Brompton – the London church that started the Alpha course. They have been married for over 20 years and have four children.

Nicky and Sila have spoken to thousands on the subject of marriage and are the co-authors of The Marriage Book which has sold over 43,000 copies since it was published in 2000. They run The Marriage Course three times a year at Holy Trinity Brompton with around 110 couples on each course [http://www.alphaindia.org/the-marriage-course].

VCD-sets and Course manuals are also available, and have been translated into Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Guajarati, Urdu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Nepali [http://www.alphaindia.org/resources].

What I like best about the Alpha course are the food and prayer time. Before attending Alpha I was a hindu. After Alpha Course I accepted Christ as my personal savior. Now my life has completely changed.
Mamta Kumari Bihar [
http://www.alphaindia.org/past-guests]

Many people think that if they come to a Christian meeting then their religion will be changed but it is not true. At Alpha anyone from any background can attend freely to explore the Christian faith….” [http://www.alphaindia.org/sites/www.alphaindia.org/files/091005_AlphaIndiaNews_Email_Version_pagebypage.pdf]

Youth Alpha – GAT [GLOBAL ALPHA TRAINING] conducted a programme from June 10 to 12, 2010 at Seva Kendra, a Catholic institution in Kolkata. Contact: Dilip Debnath dilip.alphaindia@gmail.com

National Alpha Office: Alpha India, 219, 5th A Main Road, Kalyan Nagar, HRBR 2nd Block, BANGALORE – 560 043

alphainidiaoffice@gmail.com; contact@alphaindia.org; resources@alphaindia.org;

080- 254 20881, 254 20899, 254 20902

National Director: Mr J. Varadaraj

Secretary & National GAT Administrator: Mrs. Jennifer Abraham

Resources Manager, Sister Mariam

Other email addresses:

workplace@alphaindia.org;

youthalpha@alphaindia.org;

students@alphaindia.org;

prisonalpha@alphaindia.org;

catholics@alphaindia.org;

Alpha International GAT Development Manager Sarah Drummond sarah.drummond@alpha.org; Vinnie Tang vinnie.tang@alpha.org;

CATHOLICS AT ALPHA INDIA

CHURCH ADVISORY BOARD

Archbishop Vincent Concessao, Delhi

BOARD MEMBERS

Fr. Anthony D’Souza, S.J., Director of the Xavier Institute of Leadership, Mumbai

Dr. F.A. Pinto, CEO St Xavier Group of Schools and Ryan International Schools, Mumbai

Matthew Anthony, Secretary for Evangelisation, Archdiocese of Delhi

MY COMMENTS

Archbishop Vincent Concessao was recently appointed to the Church Advisory Board of Alpha India after he attended the Alpha International Conference in June 2009 at Holy Trinity Brompton.

There are now three Catholics, including a priest, as Board Members. Mathew Antony [not as spelt on the Alpha site] is a senior leader of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the Archdiocese of Delhi.

He is also the Secretary for Evangelisation, Archdiocese of Delhi.

Alpha probably took off in Delhi after the course held there in July 2006.

Alpha India News reports 36,135 baptisms in 2009 alone. My enquiries with Alpha leaders could not determine if any were Catholic. I doubt that any were. Catholic cooperation with Alpha will only strengthen the growth of the Pentecostal churches. If you think differently, study the Alpha India newsletters. The Catholic criticisms of Alpha and my enquiries suggest that, at least as far as India is concerned, those who attend Catholic Alpha courses under the aegis of the Catholic Church will be baptised members of the flock who would receive instruction that is fully lacking in sacramental theology, ecclesiology and much more, along with an introduction to a charismatic spirituality that is rooted in the experiences of Third Wave Pentecostalism and exclusive of Mariology and other characteristics of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

Note that Alpha India gives no indication about the Anglican/neo-Pentecostal background of Alpha.

If, as Catholic Alpha leaders admit, Alpha is only an “introduction” to Christianity and the Church needs to follow-it up with its own Catholic package, why does one need Alpha in the first place?

Why not our own equivalent of Alpha that is not based, as Nicky Gumbel’s is, on the “heretical error” of Sola Scriptura, but on the Word of God [Scripture + Tradition] and the wisdom of the Early Church Fathers, the lives of Saints, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vatican Documents, Apostolic Letters, Encyclicals, etc.? It’s not as if the vast majority of our good Catholics are in the least knowledgeable in these areas.

If the Catholic Alpha course is a “tool for evangelization” as a Catholic Alpha leader wrote to me, is the Church admitting that she lacks in this area too? I am personally in touch with a number of ministries led mostly by lay Catholics and a few priests who are doing a very successful job of re-evangelizing Catholics and evangelizing non-Christians, and none of them needs Alpha. They preach a Catholic Christian Gospel which means it is full and faithful in every doctrinal aspect unlike Alpha.

It must be mentioned that, almost without exception, their spirituality is Catholic charismatic.

The Church would do well to concentrate their attention and resources in assisting these ministries.

I feel obliged to make an embarrassing judgement here. It seems that home-grown ministries are never so recognized and encouraged as are imports. There are a number of lay initiatives, especially in pro-life, that are struggling for funds and invitations to minister and reach Catholics in the different dioceses. Some find it difficult even to access the Bishops. As one who has written literally thousands of letters to the Bishops, I should know how difficult it is — when one is relatively unknown — to get a simple response from the great majority of them even on very critical issues relating to the Faith. On the matter of Alpha, I wrote to nine Indian Bishops. Just one replied [see further below]. A couple of weeks ago, I finally received a response from a Bishop after no less than five reminders over a period of two months in the matter of a simply enquiry against another report which I am making. Would a Nicky Gumbel or an equally controversial Vassula Ryden – the Greek Orthodox “mystic” whom several Bishops are supporting — face a similar problem?

Alpha has a Marriage Course. The Church already has the Marriage Encounter programme. There is Couples for Christ and the Couple to Couple League. Human Life International is active in other Asian countries but it has almost no presence in a pro-abortion nation that has one billion people.

Thousands of Catholics have left the Church and joined the cults and sects over the last few years.

Since of late even Catholic priests are crossing over. I know at least two of them personally [they had been in correspondence with me]. What are our Bishops doing about Catholic apologetics?

There are an ever increasing number of Catholic apologists in the West who have international ministries. Ours do not even stand the chance of being invited to speak at a diocesan level.

Would the Bishops consider promoting these Catholic initiatives in India the way they are doing a PROTESTANT program like Alpha?

The ALPHA INDIA NEWS April – June 2010 report, page 131, does not disclose that some of the Catholic delegates to the Goa programme publicly protested with the Alpha course presenters [who were from Malaysia] against the “disturbing errors in doctrine from the Catholic point of reference” [see page 3] that they encountered.

Through the initiatives of our Bishops, Catholic Alpha is now active in the archdioceses of Bangalore, Bombay, Delhi, Goa and Guwahati. The Alpha India office is situated in the Archdiocese of Bangalore. Expect to find more Catholics on the Alpha India Board of Members. The Alpha course manuals and promotion videos have been translated into a dozen Indian languages. As of 2009, there were two Alpha “resource churches”. Resource churches are churches which run Alpha courses and are able to facilitate the conducting of the Alpha course for other churches.

I wrote to Alpha India office enquiring about when and how baptism is conducted by them. I spoke twice on the telephone to the Alpha Kolkata contact and he gave me his email address to which I wrote a similar enquiry but to both letters I received no response. However, Mathew Antony of Delhi, Alpha India Board member is personally known to me since I first met him in Delhi in 1998 and he kindly answered most of my queries. He admitted that he went to the U.K. in 2008 but did not disclose to me whether he was trained at Holy Trinity, Brompton or not.

I then arranged for a friend of mine to write on my behalf to the Archdioceses of Bangalore, Bombay [the Cardinal Archbishop and his three auxiliaries], Delhi [the Archbishop and his auxiliary], Goa and Guwahati. The basic text of the letter was the same and I reproduce it below:

Subject:
THE ALPHA COURSE

I understand that Nicky Gumbel’s Alpha course is being promoted in the Archdiocese of nn.

While searching the internet, I have come across several reports written by eminent Catholics warning Catholics about the dangers to their faith inherent in the contents of the Alpha course and the ‘heresies’ on which Nicky Gumbel’s teachings are based. I find them very correct.

I thought that I should alert you about the same. […see below…]

If you would like to have the links to the Catholic critiques, please let me know.

It only differed in the last but one line which concerned that particular bishop/diocese:

1. Archbishop Bernard Moras, Archbishop of Bangalore:

The name of your diocese is mentioned on the internet, and Alpha India is headquartered in Bangalore.

2. Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay:

The names of Bishop Agnelo Gracias and Fr. Pravin Fernandes are mentioned on the internet.

3. Bishop Agnelo Gracias, Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay:

The names of yourself and Fr. Pravin Fernandes are mentioned on the internet.

4. Bishop Bosco Penha, Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay:

The names of Bishop Agnelo Gracias and Fr. Pravin Fernandes are mentioned on the internet.

5. Bishop Percival Fernandez, Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay:

The names of Bishop Agnelo Gracias and Fr. Pravin Fernandes are mentioned on the internet.

6. Archbishop Vincent Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi:

The activities of Alpha in your diocese is available on the internet, and recently you have been appointed a Board member of Alpha India, having attended the Alpha programme last year in London.

7. Bishop Franco Mulakkal, Auxiliary Bishop of Delhi:

The activities of Alpha in your diocese is available on the internet, and recently your Archbishop has been appointed a Board member of Alpha India, his having attended the Alpha programme last year in London.

8. Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao, Archbishop of Goa and Daman:

The activities of Alpha in your diocese is available on the internet, and your name is mentioned in the news report.

9. Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, Archbishop of Guwahati:

The activities of Alpha in your diocese is available on the internet, and your name is mentioned in the news report.

Only the Cardinal and three of the other eight responded.

The Cardinal wrote:

“Bishop Agnelo Gracias is involved in the Alpha with my approval and consent. He has been promoting it in different parishes in the Archdiocese of Bombay.  Before giving my approval I had gone through the literature that they had submitted.  I found nothing unorthodox in it.

However, I would be interested in knowing the dangers that certain people have seen in the Alpha course. It would be useful to read and study this.  I am grateful to you for having brought this to my notice.”

One Bishop from Bombay thanked my friend for his interest and said that he was sending the letter to the Bishop who “is in charge of the project”. He did not evince the slightest interest to know what the “dangers to the faith” or “heresies” were that the letter had referred to.

Bishop Agnelo Gracias of Bombay wrote:

“Yes, I have been promoting Alpha. I would be happy to have the links to the critique of Alpha. It is always good to be warned about dangers. When one is involved in a programme, one may not advert to the hidden dangers. Please send me the links. I appreciate the trouble you have taken to warn me.”

Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi wrote:

“The normal Alpha course is not good enough for Catholics as it is weak on sacraments and the church. Hence, we have an Alpha course meant specifically for Catholics which includes the original Alpha course. Besides, when we conduct the course we give it a good Catholic slant in all the sessions and modify it to the local requirements.

Nevertheless I would be very happy to receive from you a critique of the Alpha course which should be helpful in ensuring the conformity of the course to the Catholic tradition.”

My friend sent some Catholic links to the Cardinal and the two bishops who had asked for them.

EVANGELICAL CRITIQUE OF THE “TORONTO BLESSING“.
TO BE READ WITH DISCRETION.

See pages123, 124 for Catholic apologist Paul Likoudis’ references to Stephen Sizer, Anglican vicar of St. John’s Stoke in his critique of Alpha.

I have selected two reports by Stephen Sizer. It is of paramount importance for the Catholic reader to thoroughly understand the foundation on which the Alpha course is erected. Skip the fundamentalism [“Bible only”, etc.], get the general idea of the genesis.

Evangelical Alliance. Theological Reflection on the so called
‘Toronto Blessing’***

http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/toronto4ea.htm

1. To what extend do you now view the Toronto Blessing as a work of God?
It is my contention that the wave of interest in what came to be known as “The Toronto Blessing” reflects a subtle but significant move away from sound doctrine. Based on the writings of its proponents, it is clear that the Bible has been neglected, distorted, and superseded by strange doctrines and novel teaching based on extra-biblical revelation. This has led to the uncritical acceptance of an existential theology compromised by worldly values. Under the guise of a supposed “move of God”, a major paradigm shift has occurred away from the Biblical faith traditionally recognised and embraced by Evangelicals and into the realm of the cultic and heretical. The roots of the Toronto Blessing lie not in the Bible but deep within the ‘Health and Wealth’ prosperity Word of Faith movement associated with Rodney Howard-Browne and Benny Hinn.

According to Alpha magazine (July 1994), the “authorised” account of the events leading to the “Toronto Blessing” are that John Arnott, the pastor of the Toronto Vineyard church, was searching for “a fresh spiritual anointing” and so attended a meeting led by Benny Hinn, a neo-Pentecostal “Faith teacher” infamous for his claim that God revealed to him that there are nine in the Trinity. Benny Hinn’s particular emphasis is upon a powerful “anointing” he is able to bestow simply by blowing on people and according to Guy Chevreau, by 1992, Arnott and Hinn had known each other for many years in Toronto and at that time Arnott had “longed for a similar kind of empowerment” as Hinn demonstrated. A year later, Arnott was also attracted to the “Holy laughter” ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne. (Chevreau, 1994:22-23)

Randy Clark, another “key figure in the Airport Vineyard Renewal” received his anointing through Rodney Howard-Browne at Kenneth Hagin’s “Rhema” church. In the Alpha article (July 1994), Clark admitted having had reservations over “theological differences” with Hagin. However, he believed the Holy Spirit rebuked him saying, “how badly do you want to be touched afresh?” So Clark and Arnott, leaders of the Toronto Vineyard Fellowship went in search of spiritual blessings from men whose teachings have been criticised as heretical and cultic.

According to the Church Times (23 September 1994), the “strange things” which occurred in Toronto, “happened after a visit by Rodney Howard-Browne.” Subsequently, the manifestations of hysterical laughter, growling, shaking, and falling associated with Howard-Browne and Hinn’s ministry were experienced not only at the Toronto Vineyard Church, but as Vineyard leaders and lay people visited the church from around the world, they too received an anointing, and the manifestations spread to their churches as well.

If Randy Clark’s blessing had its origin in the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne at Hagin’s church, and John Arnott’s at the hands of Benny Hinn, another of Hagin’s disciples and a close friend, the origin of this phenomena must seriously be questioned.

2. How do you now regard the ‘Blessing’ in terms of a) renewal b) revival
2.1 Revival?
Advocates of the Toronto Blessing implied or explicitly stated at the time that they believed this to be evidence of revival. Holy Trinity Brompton and Alpha Magazine were among the foremost. For examples, see, “A Mighty wind from Toronto – The word “revival” is on everyone’s lips” HTB Focus, June 12, 1994, p3; Dave Roberts, “Rumours of Revival”, Alpha Magazine, July 1994, p.25: “Revival Fire” & “Revival Call”, Alpha Magazine, August 1994, pp.14-17; 32-34; “Rodney Howard-Browne – the man behind global revival” & “Signs of Revival?”, Alpha Magazine, December 1994, pp.5-7. Guy Chevreau also took this line in his book, The Toronto Blessing – An Experience of Renewal and Revival, (Marshall Pickering, 1994).

Speaking at the Wembley meeting with Rodney Howard-Browne on 13th December 1994, Gerald Coates testified, “Describing these “Toronto” events as “revival”… He said, “This is perhaps the greatest outpouring of God in our land ever.” Evangelicals Now, (February 1995, p.9)

Despite such a preoccupation with revival it is important to note that the noun “revival” does not actually appear in the Bible. The verbs “revive” and “reviving” are used, in the Old Testament, to describe the action of God following his punishment, and His people’s repentance (Psalm 80:18; 85:6, Isaiah 57:15; Hosea 6:2). In Psalm 19:7 it is associated with the Law of God and in many verses in Psalm 119 with meditating on the Word of God. There are no references in the New Testament. A fact we would do well to note.

2.2 Renewal?
Probably the most common interpretation is that the Toronto Blessing was evidence of “renewal”. This term is, however, not without its problems in contemporary usage. The term “renewal” appears four times in the Bible, in each case in very specific ways. In Job 14:14 it relates to the day of resurrection; in Isaiah 57:10 from gaining strength from pagan worship rather than trusting in God; In Matthew 19:28 Jesus uses the word to describe what will happen when He returns to sit in judgement. The word “renewal” is used once to describe the Christian, in Titus 3:5, and there very clearly it has to do with regeneration, and “rebirth”, not a subsequent event. “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” The concept of “being renewed” as a present tense experience is found in Romans 12:2, but refers not to our spirits or our bodies, but to our minds. Similarly, 2 Corinthians 4:16 describes “renewing” as a continual daily process by which we are becoming more like Christ. While our physical bodies are “decaying”, or wearing out, our inner nature is being “renewed”. There is no sense therefore in which the word here could be taken to refer to physical healing. Some Christians equate the word “renewal” with “receiving” the Spirit subsequent to conversion, evidenced by unintelligible sounds or “tongues”. Mike Fearon for instance, refers to churches holding “receiving meetings” when the “Toronto Blessing” is apparently bestowed (Fearon, 1994: 248). To believe or teach that Christians need to pray to receive the Spirit is, however, quite fallacious. The Scriptures clearly teach that a person cannot be a Christian without the presence of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). The theological interpretation of Pentecost, as a unique historical event, is explained in 1 Corinthians 12:13. “For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Notice that Paul describes a corporate, past tense event, not something to be sought. There is no sense biblically therefore by which the Toronto Blessing can be associated with either the word ‘revival’ or ‘renewal’.

3.
To what extend do you now regard the manifestations associated with the ‘Blessing’ as biblical?
The Toronto Blessing became particularly notorious, at least in the secular press, for the claims made that people were ‘drunk in the Spirit’ and manifested the presence of the Holy Spirit through animal noises, roaring, shaking and other phenomenon.
3.1 Drunk in the Spirit?

It was repeatedly claimed by advocates that the drunken behaviour associated with the Toronto Blessing paralleled events witnessed on the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. The biblical text, however, shows that the only sign which could have given rise to this accusation was an eagerness and boldness on the part of the Apostles to publicly proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. This was preached in clearly understood languages. Those who ridiculed the Apostles with the accusation that they were drunk were hearing the Gospel and presumably rejecting it. Their criticism was the excuse of a guilty conscience and unfounded. It is significant that no biblical commentator interprets the text as teaching that the Apostles actually displayed drunken behaviour, that is, prior to the wishful eisegesis of the advocates of the Toronto Blessing. Logically, on the same basis, they must also presumably believe that the Lord Jesus spoke with slurred speech, staggered about or rolled on the floor, since He too was criticised for drunkenness. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say “He has a demon.” The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”” (Matthew 11:18-19). Jesus’ rebuke is clear, “Wisdom is proved right by her actions”. Undeterred, there have been numerous, well publicised reports, of people supposedly being “intoxicated” in the Spirit, unable to walk or drive a car as a result of this so called “blessing”. Mike Fearon, for example, quotes advocates as being “legless”, and “merrily sozzled” and of “having a skinful of the Holy Spirit” (p.26), and the “undiluted 100 percent proof Spirit” (p.27). It is surely grievous to hear that “The Holy Spirit doesn’t simply come so that people can become “pissed as newts”, (p.28). Does He ever? What remains unanswered is the question as to how all this is compatible with “self control”, one of the fruit of the Spirit. There is plainly a contradiction between the teaching of Scripture and these experiences.

 

Merely calling these experiences “altered states of consciousness”, as Patrick Dixon does to justify them, will not do (Church Times, 2 June 1995, p.7). Without self control we have no defence against the Devil. The Apostle Peter warns, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). Indeed, Peter says if we are not self controlled and clear headed we cannot be in communion with God. “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Peter 4:7).

3.2 Laughter in the Spirit?
Joy is indeed a fruit of the Spirit, and there is no excuse for glum Christians. However, throughout the Bible, the great majority of references to laughter are associated with scorn, derision or evil. Of 40 references in the Bible, (34 in the Old Testament and 6 in the New Testament), 22 of them refer to scornful laughter. Of the other 18, seven refer exclusively to Abraham and Sarah’s initial disbelief and astonishment that God would give them a child in old age. Only three refer to authentic laughter in the New Testament and all three warn against laughter (Luke 6:21; 6:25 and James 4:9, where we are told specifically not to laugh!) “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter into mourning and your joy into gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will life you up”. (James 4:9-10) A number of observations can be made, based on the Scriptural record and the practice of advocates of what has been termed “Holy” laughter”.

These are taken from an article entitled, “Holy Laughter or Strong Delusion?” by Warren Smith, SCP Newsletter (Fall 1994, Volume 19:2, pp1-13). There is no biblical precedent for “holy” laughter… Substituting the word joy for laughter is a non sequitur. It is inaccurate and misleading. “Holy” laughter advocates rarely, if ever, discuss the need to “test the spirits”… or the dangers of demonic deception. “Many laughter advocates condescendingly discourage and even openly intimidate sincere Christians who question the “laughing revival”…The Hunter’s book “Holy Laughter” refers to sceptics as “God’s frozen chosen.” Mona Johnian writes, “sceptics, hesitators and procrastinators do not get anointed.” She warns “that any person or church that wavered could be eliminated.”… “Holy” laughter advocates blatantly disregard the biblical admonition that things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40) (Smith, 1994, 1-13)

Jo Gardner finds a similar observation in the writings of Watchman Nee, to the presence of laughter in the church in China, They could not contain themselves and kept on laughing. What is this? Can this possibly be the fullness of the Spirit? No, this is plainly one of the works of the soul. (The Latent Power of the Soul p.71 by Watchman Nee quoted in The Churchman Vol.109, no.1, 1995)

3.3 Roaring in the Spirit?
At the peak of the controversy surrounding the Toronto Blessing, Mark Dupont, one of the prophetic leaders of the then Toronto Vineyard Fellowship, wrote specifically about the “roaring” or growling phenomenon associated with the Toronto Blessing. In a paper entitled, “1994: The Year of the Lion” published by Mantle of Praise Ministries Incorporated, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, Dupont insisted that Amos 3:8 applies to today, and that it is the Lord God who has inspired the “roaring” phenomenon.
The lion has roared– who will not fear? The Sovereign Lord has spoken– who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8)

He writes, “There have been many people who have been roaring as lions in the meetings as the Spirit of God has come on them.” A cursory reading of the context (Amos 3:1-4) shows that in this, as in just about every other reference to “roaring” in the Scriptures, this was a sign of God’s judgement of Israel, and their imminent punishment. Any good Bible concordance shows conclusively that references to “roar,” “roaring” and “roared” found in the context of a lion have to do with the presence of evil, of destruction, and, when applied to the Lord God, refers to His impending judgement of sin, not blessing.

With the same lack of regard for Scripture, Mike Fearon asserts that “roaring people are usually intercessors involved in promoting unity” (A Breath of Fresh Air 1994: p.99). The bankruptcy of Dupont’s exegetical abilities is evident when he has to quote from the fictional story, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis, to explain the reason for this apparently new way of Divine working. Referring to something “Aslan” the lion says in the book, Dupont asserts, “This in essence is the revelation that the bride of Christ needs today….” I suspect Dupont and others caught up in the roaring phenomenon have been influenced more by Walt Disney’s film “The Lion King” than with the Spirit of God. Clifford Hill comments on reports linking this “Blessing” with people making roaring animal noises.

 

The Sunday Telegraph reported an Anglican bishop in Toronto rolling on the floor and roaring like a lion. A Pentecostal pastor attended a church in Brighton (said to be one of the first congregations in Britain to receive the new laughter phenomenon) and reported on a three and a half hour service on 19 June… [including] constant repetition of triumphalist songs declaring “We are going to take the land, subdue the nation and present it to Christ.” At one point a young man shouted “The beast is dead! The beast is dead!” which was greeted with much screaming and shouting culminating in a growing crescendo of the whole congregation growling. After this the elder leading the service told visitors not to worry about the growl as “it always happens here.”(PWM Team Ministries, November 1994)

Clifford Hill points out that the prophet Jeremiah associates “roaring like a lion”, with the occult spirit of Babylon, and their shouts of laughter as a sign of their impending destruction.
“Babylon will be a heap of ruins… an object of horror and scorn, a place where no one lives. Her people all roar like young lions, they growl like lion cubs. But while they are aroused, I will set out a feast for them and make them drunk, so that they shout with laughter–then sleep forever and not awake,” says the LORD.”I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter.” (Jeremiah 51:37-40)

Ignoring this warning of judgement, Dupont equates the Toronto Blessing with what he describes as “a party the Father is throwing,” an idea taken from the Parable of the Lost Son. Others have similarly compared it with a banquet. This is actually a form of “realised eschatology” where promises that relate to the future are applied to the present. The Scriptures teach that the “marriage supper of the Lamb” will be in heaven in the future, not now, on earth (Isaiah 25:6-9). Yes, there is joy and times of celebration now, but essentially the Christian calling is one of battle and toil (John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; Rom 8:19-25; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:1-6; 1 Peter 2:21). We look forward to the banquet with sure and certain hope (Revelation 19:7-9).

Most worrying of all, Dupont’s paper is littered with biblical references to Divine judgement which he insists will fall on those who doubt or question that this movement is a work of God. It is very disturbing to find so-called Christians speaking in this way of other believers. Dupont refers to, or quotes from, an amazing array of passages to silence criticism. These include 1 Kings 13:4 (the unbelieving King got a withered arm); Judges 1:2; Judges 20:18; Proverbs 6; Isaiah 58; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Malachi 3:16; 2 Kings 5:26 (Gehazi’s disobedience led to leprosy); 1 Kings 13:26 (the disobedient prophet was killed by a lion); Ephesians 4:30; James 4:5; John 15:2 (the branch cut off); Jeremiah 6:14; 8:14; Isaiah 42:13,16. In fact the entire paper seems to be designed to do just that-silence criticism. Dupont is at least honest when he says, with reference to the story of the prophet mauled by a lion, “This may sound like a harsh Old Testament story for Christians today, but I believe this is really a picture of God’s jealousy over those that He gives revelation of Himself to.” Perhaps Dupont ought to read John 10:27-30 (in relation to our security) and Revelation 22:18 (in relation to all these new extra-Biblical revelations).

3.4 The Bible and the Manifestations of Toronto
On the basis of a careful analysis of all the biblical references to drunkenness, shaking, roaring or laughter it is quite clear that, not withstanding glowing testimonies, there is no biblical basis for the manifestations associated with the Toronto Blessing. Perhaps this is why proponents have attempted to avoid such an evaluation.

For example, “Howard-Browne disparages those who try and apply a theological test to his methods”, writes Julia Duin, in Charisma, (August 1994, p.26), “You can’t understand what God is doing in these meetings with an analytical mind,” he says. “The only way you’re going to understand what God is doing is with your heart.”

While it is true that the genuine work of God affects our heart as well as our mind, it is worrying that like the “Faith Teaching” cultists, some Christians appear to downgrade the mind as the primary means of discerning truth from error.

The Scriptures repeatedly warn us to “be on your guard”, and to use our minds to understand God’s will. (see Rom 12:1-2; Eph 4:17-24; 5:17-18; Col 1:21-22; 3:10; 1 Tim 6:3-4; 2 Tim 2:15; 4:1-4; 2 Pet 2:1-3).

Dave Roberts in The Toronto Blessing, disparages the example of the noble Bereans in Acts 17:11 who, “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” . Under the title “Explain, explain, explain”, Roberts tells us that “It is vital we help our congregational Bereans and those simply shocked by the new and different and that we seek to remind people of appropriate scriptures” (1994:138).

Roberts is clearly criticising those who want to justify everything from the Scriptures. But the Berean Christians are praised not pitied by Luke. They are held up as the norm, as a universal model, not a weak or narrow group of biblicists to be found in most congregations, as Roberts implies. At best the hermeneutic used by advocates of Toronto is unconvincing, at worst it is appalling. It is frankly an “Alice in Wonderland” hermeneutic – words can mean what ever they want them to because they have had an experience. Spiritual experiences have a vital place in the Christian life but must always be weighed and tested according to the Scriptures, not other extra-biblical revelations.

This is precisely what Mike Fearon does in A Breath of Fresh Air. Ironically, he quotes extensively from my own criticisms of the Toronto Movement and apparently concedes the wisdom of caution where “the church appears to be experiencing phenomena which goes beyond the parameters set down in Scripture”. Fearon then, however, completely ignores such authoritative Biblical teaching by saying, “Yet if it is the Spirit himself who is transcending these barriers, what can the church do?” (1994:157). But in so reasoning, Fearon assumes to be true (on the basis of experience or extra-biblical revelation), the very point in question. Surely such “logic” sets in contradiction the work of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures which He inspired. Such reasoning destroys any basis for rational discussion on the meaning and interpretation of God’s Word, for at any point where the basis for unusual phenomena is questioned, appeal can be made to “discernment” or experience to justify it. This is in reality merely a modern and more insidious incarnation of the “higher knowledge” of the 3rd century Gnostic heresy.

According to Eleanor Mumford, on her now infamous tape, the Vineyard leaders at Toronto told her “not to analyse or question this, but just receive it… or you will lose it“. Precisely, because in the light of Scripture it is exposed for what it is. There we are specifically commanded to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), and refute error and uncritical thinking such as advocated here.

4. What is your assessment of the place of the ‘Blessing’ within churches today?
With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that the ‘Toronto Blessing’ was a major distraction from the evangelistic mandate and a cause of great confusion and division within Evangelical and Charismatic circles.

5. Does the ‘Blessing’ have a future, or was it only for a ‘season’?
The question assumes too much. The Toronto Blessing was neither for a season nor has a future other than to show the perils of basing our Christian faith on experience rather than the sure Word of God.

6. What lessons can be learnt from the ‘Blessing’ for the future?
What are we to make of the “Toronto Blessing”? Some people say they have a greater love for God as a consequence of this “blessing”. My conclusions do not nullify experiences people may have had, but they are sufficient to warn us not to accept, uncritically, every wind of doctrine blowing across the Atlantic, any more than we would from the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England! It must also be said that many of so called “testimonies” I have listened to in person or on tape or video focus on the phenomena, the “experience” and are highly subjective, speaking of a resultant “greater love” or “greater zeal” for God, something which it is impossible to assess objectively. John Richardson makes this helpful assessment.

We need to ask in conclusion not whether the Toronto Blessing might be something God is doing nor whether it is changing peoples’ lives, but whether it is consistent with the biblical theology of the blessing of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. The essence of the work of the Holy Spirit will be the Holy life, and for this we do not have to pass through the Toronto Blessing. Rather we need to immerse ourselves more and more in the whole counsel of the gospel which is sufficient for our relationship with God. This is the teaching of the rest of Galatians, and I would suggest it is the consistent teaching of the whole of Scripture. And if the preaching of the whole of Scripture on the basis that Christ gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age is not adequate to bring the Toronto Blessing to those who hear with faith, then whatever does bring the Toronto Blessing is another gospel and whatever it brings is not the blessing promised Abraham, nor a result of receiving the Holy Spirit. (From a talk given at a conference “Toronto Blessing? It’s OK to ask Questions” at St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, 16th September 1995)

It seems very easy to spot a “Gospel minus” heresy and we love to condemn Bishops who deny fundamental Christian doctrines. It is not so easy, and I fear Evangelicals and Charismatics are not so willing, to contest teaching which in effect is a “Gospel plus” heresy, especially when uttered by those who claim “Jesus is Lord”.

That is what we are offered in the “Toronto Blessing”, more than God has promised. The Gospel has been likened to a canoe perfectly capable of carrying us through life to heaven. But if we try and add baggage we will sink the canoe just as quickly as by punching holes in it. The effect of adding to the Gospel is the same as taking away from it. John Richardson continues.

But could it not be claimed that the Toronto Blessing is a blessing beyond the simple blessings of the gospel? Could it not be, as Michael Green has also suggested, God’s way of by-passing our rationalism and reaching the parts other approaches – such as gospel preaching – haven’t reached?

This is perhaps the hardest claim to answer in support of the Toronto Blessing. To deny it seems to deny either the power or the sovereignty of God. And yet, as we said at the outset, one vital function of systematic theology is to insist that, whilst God can do anything he doesn’t do everything.

The blessing of which Paul speaks in Galatians 3, the blessing which may be summed up as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit even on the Gentiles, is the blessing God promised to Abraham and it is received through hearing the gospel with faith. So we must say that any blessing which goes beyond the blessing promised to Abraham, and any blessing which comes by some other means than hearing the gospel with faith, is a blessing too far because, as Paul points out in Galatians 1, it must come from “a different gospel”. (From a talk given at a conference “Toronto Blessing? It’s OK to ask Questions” at St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, 16th September 1995

It does seem most unfortunate, even embarrassing, that media reports of “a Time of Refreshment” coincided with a period of almost apocalyptic suffering in places like Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and Bosnia. The Scriptures give us no warrant for believing that the evangelistic mandate and call to compassionate service has been revoked in these ‘last days’, replaced by egocentric and introverted ecstatic experiences of laughter, animal noises, shaking and falling to the floor. J. I. Packer, in Laid-Back Religion, makes this perceptive analysis of what he terms “Hot Tub Religion”.

“Hot tub religion….attempts to harness the power of God to the priorities of self-centredness. Feelings of pleasure and comfort, springing from pleasant circumstances and soothing experiences, are prime goals these days, and much popular Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic tries to oblige us by manufacturing them for us…. Now we can see hot tub religion for what it is – Christianity corrupted by the passion for pleasure….Symptoms of hot tub religion today include…an overheated supernaturalism that seeks signs, wonders, visions, prophecies, and miracles; constant soothing syrup from electronic preachers and the liberal pulpit; anti-intellectual sentimentalism and emotional “highs” deliberately cultivated, the Christian equivalent of cannabis and coca.” (1989: p.53, 58)

The Toronto Blessing is representative of a sub-Christian movement in which the basis of faith has shifted from the historic Jesus of the cross to the present “spirit” of personal experience. This is existential Gnostic heresy. Subjective experience must never take precedence over objective fact. Faith means “I trust”, not “I feel”.

In this and in every generation what is at stake is the truth of the Gospel and the unity of the Body of Christ. This unity can only be maintained, not created. It is maintained as we remain faithful to the faith once received, according to the Scriptures.

Dr Francis Schaeffer wrote an emotive book shortly before his death, entitled The Great Evangelical Disaster. In it he speaks of a “watershed” dividing evangelicals. On the one side are those who hold “to a strong uncompromising view of Scripture” (1985: p.46), and those who hold what he terms a “Neo-orthodox existential theology.….The heart of neo-orthodox existential theology is that the Bible gives us a quarry out of which to have religious experience..” (p.49). The watershed, for Schaeffer, is between a theology based on “an inner feeling” and one based on “objective truth”.

“It is surprising to see how clearly the liberal, neo-orthodox way of thinking is reflected in the new weakened evangelical view…By placing a radical emphasis on subjective human experience, existentialism undercuts the objective side of experience. For the existentialist it is an illusion to think that we can know anything truly….all we have is subjective experience, with no final basis for right or wrong or truth or beauty.” (p.51, 53)

In an article published in United Evangelical Action (Fall, 1976), Schaeffer went on to challenge Evangelicals to take a stand on this watershed issue.
“You cannot wait for others to draw the line. You must draw the line. Will it be with tears? I hope it will be with tears. I remember as a young man in the 1930’s when harshness and un-love reigned, but harshness and un-love do not need to reign when the line is drawn. It can be with tears and it can be with love. But unless those who have responsibility of leadership are willing to draw the line, they cut the ground from under the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1976, p.4)

In drawing the line there are three specific things we must do.

6.1 Understand Christian Doctrine
The chief single reason for the success of the cults in general, and the Toronto Blessing in particular, is the spiritual naiveté and ignorance of the Word of God among Christians. Too many are content with a superficial knowledge of the Scriptures, the means by which God has revealed Himself. This is made worse by the prevalence of an arrogant and over confident reliance on spiritual discernment which allegedly keeps one impervious to deception. More common still is the unspoken and naive belief that only other people are deceived by cults.

We must instead give ourselves to a life-long and detailed study of Scriptures and the doctrines they contain. Theology is simply right thinking about God, something we should approach reverently and systematically. In this regard I warmly commend Bruce Milne’s book Know the Truth (IVP, 1992), and the older classic work by T.C. Hammond, In Understanding be Men (IVP).

We live at a time when doctrine is seen as a dirty word and down played in favour of ecstatic religious experiences of dubious origin. This is utter foolishness and plays into the hands of cultic wolves who prowl the edges of the flock. Are you daily spending unhurried time in the Word of God? You can’t be physically healthy on one meal a week, nor can you be spiritually healthy on one sermon a week. Grow up into maturity by becoming familiar with the Maker’s Instructions, as one who feeds on and applies the very Word of God (Matthew 4:4).

6.2 Separate from Spiritual Error
The Apostle Paul was most emphatic when he warned the Ephesians, and Timothy, to have nothing to do with “godless myths”.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:11) Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. (1 Timothy 4:7)

Advocates of the Toronto Blessing have said to me, “But you make it sound so black and white… but many Christians seem to have been helped by this movement.” I agree that it is not all “black and white”. My argument is that a little cancer is too much, a little adultery is still adultery, a little AIDS infection is enough to infect the whole body. The apostle Paul knew the devastating influence of just a little error.
Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? (1 Corinthians 5:6)

He defines the bread without yeast as that of “sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8) Sincerity is never enough. That is surely why Jesus warned so strongly against the subtle but pervading influence of false teaching.
Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees…Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:6-12)

Ultimately we may disagree as to the extent of error in the roots, teaching and manifestations associated with the Toronto Blessing, but error there clearly is, and that is sufficient reason for disassociating from it, no matter how tantalising the apparent fruit.
Nor is true that we cannot speak critically of false doctrine unless we have read everything offered by particular heretics or cults. We need only become familiar with the truth of God’s Word and error becomes plain. The argument that, “You cannot know it until you have tried it” is a satanic doctrine, and the very one used to subvert Eve and bring the terrible cancer of sin into the world. We must watch out for heretical teaching not just outside the Church from well defined cult organisations, but also within the Church. God has forbidden contact with those who teach error.

 

Spiritual exhibitionists abound, touting new revelations and the Christian media seem only too willing to play along with their charades and make a fat profit in the process. We are commanded not to give ourselves to these things but rather “to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Furthermore we are called upon to, Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. (1 Timothy 4:15).

We cannot float through life on a permanent spiritual high, or on a wave of existential euphoria. Rather we are commanded again and again to be careful, take heed, watch out, remember. We are to be wise and sober, and at all times to
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8)

6.3 Contend For The Truth
The Lord calls upon us to earnestly contend for the faith, in the face of satanic adversaries (Jude 3). Sometimes, as happened between Paul and Peter, this may even mean coming to a point of contention with friends and associates where the truth of the gospel is at stake (Galatians 2:11).
Indeed Jesus Christ Himself had on one occasion to turn to His beloved friend and say “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). The true servant of Jesus Christ must be careful that his allegiance is absolute. By comparison, all human relationships are relative.

I believe the Lord is testing the Western Church at this time, for its infatuation with “health and wealth”, and titillation by “signs and wonders”. The extent to which this book is taken seriously, and the truth which it reveals is heeded, will be a good indication of how the wider Church will fare in these trying times. We would do well to heed the Scriptural warning.
“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)

The first principle of the universe is truth and this must be defended even at the cost of our lives. We live in a relativist culture which values tolerance and mutual respect more highly than truth. Our spiritual sentiments, and this is probably the most sentimental age in the history of the Church, would therefore lead us many times to feel that to contend for the faith of the gospel is somehow eccentric, unspiritual or undignified. Nothing could be further from the truth. God warns a few verses later in Deuteronomy not to be influenced even by friendship or personal loyalty when the truth is at stake.
Do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. (Deuteronomy 13:8)

The Apostle Paul was similarly very serious when he likened us to soldiers of the cross, describing in detail the armour we must wear in order to contend for the truth (Ephesians 6:10-20). Here Paul equates the “mighty power” of God not with signs and wonders but with the truth and righteousness, with the gospel and faith, and above all, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, (Ephesians 6:10-19)

We are indeed soldiers of Christ. The world is a battleground. The struggle is between truth and error. Our only weapon is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. May God enable you to handle it more accurately as a workman who need never be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15). Become a person who knows well and lives by the Word of God. Know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).

Martin Luther once said,
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battle fronts besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” (Schaeffer, 1985:51)

Read Stephen’s other books and articles here


Bibliography
David Breese Know the Marks of the Cults, Victor: Wheaton, 1986

Walter Chantry Signs of an Apostle, Banner of Truth: Edinburgh, 1976

Guy Chevreau Catch the Fire, Marshall Pickering, 1994

Curtis Crenshaw Man as God-The Word of Faith Movement, Footstool, 1993

Patrick Dixon Signs of Revival, Kingsway, 1994

Robert Doyle Signs and Wonders and Evangelicals, Lancer, 1987

Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth, 1994

Mike Fearon A Breath of Fresh Air, Eagle, 1994

Jo Gardner & Rachel Tingle

“Ticket to Toronto” The Churchman, vol. 109, no.1, 1995

Wayne Grudem Power & Truth, The Association of Vineyard Churches, 1993

Hank Hanegraaff Christianity in Crisis, Nelson Word, 1995

Clifford Hill And They Shall Prophesy, Marshall Pickering, 1990

Benny Hinn Good Morning Holy Spirit, Word, 1991

Michael Horton Power Religion, Scripture Press, 1992

Dave Hunt The Seduction of Christianity, Harvest House, 1987

Phillip Jensen John Wimber-Friend or Foe?, St Matthias Press: London, 1990

John MacArthur Charismatic Chaos, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1992

Gary McHale & Michael Haykin

The Toronto Blessing: A Renewal from God? Canadian Christian Publishers, 1995

Alan Morrison The Serpent and the Cross, K & M, 1994

J.I. Packer Laid-Back Religion, Inter-Varsity Press, 1989

Dave Roberts The Toronto Blessing, Kingsway. 1994

Francis Schaeffer The Great Evangelical Disaster, Kingsway, 1985

James Sire The Universe Next Door, IVP, 1988

The Toronto Blessing: A Critical Reflection

This brief critique grew out of a series of papers produced for his own congregations on this perplexing and divisive issue. In these Stephen has concentrated on the theological roots of this movement, and the biblical hermeneutic used to justify the phenomena associated with it.

In December 1994, Stephen was asked to debate with Sandy Millar and Nicky Gumbel before the Church of England Evangelical Council on the significance of the “Toronto Blessing”. That same month he participated in a 24 hour Consultation on the subject under the auspices of the Evangelical Alliance. He and Rob Warner drafted the agreed statement signed by those participating. In the Spring of 1995 Stephen contributed to a video entitled “Rumours of Revival” produced by Nelson Word and in October 1995, addressed the Annual Rally of the Church Society at Westminster Central Hall on this subject. In 1997 he contributed to a video series produced by National Prayer Network exposing the errors of the Signs and Wonders Movement. A more detailed critique of the so called ‘Toronto Blessing’ and related manifestations is available from his web site under ‘articles and papers’: www.virginiawater.co.uk/christchurch

CHAPTER 2 : THE TORONTO BLESSING – THE ROOTS by Stephen Sizer

http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/roots.html

While most reporters and proponents have emphasised the manifestations and stressed how wonderful God’s blessing has been, it is essential to take a step back and examine the roots of this phenomena. Here many have found much that is worrying since the roots of the Toronto Blessing appear to run deep into heretical and occult teaching. These roots can be traced to at least three sources, the Word of Faith teachers, the Vineyard denomination and the Latter Rains movement.

2.1 The Word of Faith Movement – Health and Wealth

The Word of Faith movement, also known as the “Faith” movement, represents a group of powerful and influential neo-Pentecostal church leaders and televangelists who, through their broadcasts, reach several hundred million viewers world-wide every week (Ankerberg & Weldon, 1990, p.9). They include Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Rodney Howard-Browne, Benny Hinn, Morris Cerullo and David Yonggi Cho. Central to their teaching is the concept that “faith” is a force that once appropriated, unlocks the universe, and God’s blessing.

These men and their disciples like Rodney Howard-Browne are influencing many church leaders in Britain who have embraced their heretical ideas.

The “Faith” Movement believes that the human mind and tongue contain a supernatural ability or power. When a person speaks expressing his faith in supposedly divine laws, his positive thoughts and positive verbal expression allegedly produce a “divine force” that will heal, produce wealth, bring success, and in other ways influence the environment….According to the “Faith” teachers, God automatically responds and accomplishes what we command when we positively confess our needs and desires in faith, (Ankerberg and Weldon, 1993, p.6)

Benny Hinn, infamous for his claim that God revealed to him that there are nine in the Trinity, is representative of the “Faith Movement”, and coincidentally worked in Toronto for many years. He has had a profound influence on the Church through his flamboyant ministry, unorthodox theological speculations and extra-biblical revelations. In his book, Good Morning Holy Spirit, (Word, 1991) Hinn makes the following incredible statements,
And then like a child, with my hands raised, I asked, “Can I meet you? Can I really meet you?”….After I spoke to the Holy Spirit, nothing seemed to happen……Then, like a jolt of electricity my body began to vibrate all over….I felt as if I had been translated to heaven… (p.12-13)
Once, my mother was cleaning the hallway while I was in my room talking with the Holy Spirit. When I came out, she was thrown right back. Something had knocked her against the wall. I said, “What’s wrong with you Mama?” She answered, “I don’t know?” Well, the presence of the Lord almost knocked her down. (p.42)
What was the appearance of God the Father? Like that of a man…God has the likeness of fingers and hands and a face
(p.82)
What does God the Father look like? Although I’ve never seen Him, I believe – as with the Holy Spirit – He looks like Jesus looked on earth.
(p.87)
Had He (Jesus) not offered Himself through the Holy Ghost, He would not be accepted in the eyes of God the Father. Nor would He have endured the sufferings of the cross. Had He not presented Himself through the Holy Ghost, His blood would not have remained pure and spotless. And let me add this: Had the Holy Spirit not been with Jesus, He would have sinned.
(p.135)
Can you imagine Christ headed for the grave knowing He would remain there forever if the Holy Ghost would change His mind about raising Him from the dead? (p.136)
Do you know that every unbeliever is filled with a demon spirit (p.146)
I feel that the Holy Spirit has the capacity to feel human emotions-even pain, grief and anguish-with an intensity that is known only to Him. You say, “Do you mean that the Holy Ghost can feel deeper heartache than the Father and the Son?”…..I believe it is because He is touched in a deeper, more profound way than the other members of the Godhead (p.153)

Benny Hinn has made even more outrageous claims on Trinity Broadcast Network television programmes. These quotations are quoted from a critique of the Word of Faith Movement by John Ankerberg & John Weldon,

Christians are “Little Messiah’s and “little gods” on the earth. Thus [Encouraging the audience]…say “I am a God-man….This spirit-man within me is a God-man…” say “I’m born of heaven-a God-man. I’m a God man. I am a sample of Jesus. I’m a super being. Say it! Say it! Who’s a super being? “I walk in the realm of the supernatural.” Say it! You want to prosper? Money will be falling on you from left, right and centre. God will begin to prosper you, for money always follows righteousness….Say after me, “everything I ever want is in me already.” Hinn teaches that Christians confessing they are “a sinner saved by grace” only insult God with such “garbage” .According to his November 6, 1990, TBN sermon and other lectures, Hinn teaches that poverty is from the devil and that God wants all Christians prosperous.

Hinn teaches that….Jesus temporarily lost His divinity after the crucifixion; and that using words as “if it be thy will,” are destroyers of true faith. (The Facts of the Faith Movement, Harvest House Publishers, 1993, p.22-23)

According to Perucci Ferraiuolo and Paul Carden, Benny Hinn sought ordination by the Assemblies of God denomination in 1993 but his application was put on hold because, Hinn made headlines in June when, at his Philadelphia crusade, he declared former heavy weight boxing champion Evander Holyfield healed of the heart problems that cost him the title…..According to a volunteer helping Hinn with security on-stage, Hinn asked crusade-goers for $1,000 to help with costs. When Holyfield raised his hand, Hinn reportedly asked him for $100,000 – and when the boxer agreed, Hinn pressed him further, asking him to underwrite the entire crusade to the tune of $250,000. Holyfield acquiesced, and Hinn reportedly prayed that God would enable the pugilist to earn $200 million because of his donation. (“Where are they now? A Televangelist Update: slick. hypocritical. greedy. power-hungry. flamboyant. sleazy” Christian Research Journal Fall, 1994, p.45)

Hank Hanegraaff, in his classic book, Christianity in Crisis, (1995, Nelson Word) shows conclusively that men like Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Morris Cerullo and Paul Yonggi Cho are denying fundamental Christian doctrines, and in particular how they are compromising the deity of Christ, deifying mankind and impugning the sufficiency of the atonement and the Scriptures.

Michael Horton, quoted by Ankerberg and Weldon, from his book, The Agony of Deceit (Moody Press, 1992), makes the following assessment,….the obnoxiousness of offering salvation for money is itself heretical, indeed pagan. Nevertheless, the gospel heralded by some of the television preachers is even more perverted than that….It is not only crass and ugly, it is overtly blasphemous and anti-Christian….[They] are preaching another Word, another God, and another Christ. (The Faith Movement, 1993, p.12)

In Chapter 4 there is a more detailed analysis of the teaching and ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne. The views of David Yonggi Cho another “Faith” teacher are examined in Chapter 6. A summary of heretical quotations from the leaders of the Word of Faith Movement, quoted from Hank Hanegraaff’s Christianity in Crisis (1995), has been added as an Appendix.

2.2 The Vineyard Movement – Signs and Wonders

A number of important studies have been published recently on the ministry of John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement (notably Michael Horton (1992); Phillip Jensen (1990); Clifford Hill (1990); and most recently Gary McHale & Michael Haykin (1995) see bibliography).

John Wimber’s Vineyard Movement shows similarities with the “faith” teachers. It has taught that the western church needs a major paradigm shift in world view from one that is rationalistic and “Book” centred, to a more supernatural and experience related stance. Thus Wimber’s emphasis has shifted from proclamation of the Word of God to a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power – hence his “power evangelism and “power healing”. (Jo Gardner & Rachel Tingle, “Ticket to Toronto” The Churchman, vol. 109, no. 1, 1995)

Similarly, under the heading “Purple Haze: The Inducement of Mental Minimalism”, Alan Morrison traces the Gnostic and anti-intellectualism of some elements of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, and in particular that of John Wimber.

For example, former Quaker and rock guitarist John Wimber…..openly advocates a “paradigm shift” away from thinking with Western logic into the exclusively experimental way of oriental thinking-a concept thoroughly in line with the mystical ideology of the New Gnosticism. He also claims that “first century Semites did not argue from a premise to a conclusion; they were not controlled by rationalism (Power Evangelism 1985, p.74). This is a highly erroneous and mischievous statement. Not only is it historically inaccurate but it also attempts to denigrate logic, as if this is something to be shunned. (The Serpent and the Cross, 1994)

Gary McHale, in an important five volume critique of the Vineyard Movement, traces for example, the revisionist tendencies to re-write Church history with a “signs and wonders” gloss, to suite their need of an historical precedent in the way that someone might try and create a fictitious and fraudulent family tree. McHale shows, for example, how Wimber distorts Augustine by using selective quotations to imply that he believed in the perpetuation of New Testament signs and wonders (p.54). Augustine most clearly did not. The stories of miracles which Augustine alludes to he attributed to the relics of dead martyrs and shrines not a ministry of signs and wonders, hardly something to strengthen the Vineyard case. (p.57) Likewise, McHale shows that the teachings of Montanus and Tertullian, whom Wimber argues advocated the continuation of “signs and wonders” were both condemned as heretics (p.23) He shows that the early church grew through the proclamation of the Gospel, the holy lives of the Christians and their willingness to endure martyrdom in the face of persecution.

“In a way the early church did believe that the Holy Spirit continued to give them the gifts of signs and wonders. The sign was the boldness of the public confessions. The wonder was planted into the heart of those who watched the torturing and asked, “What god do these people worship that they would be willing to stand and proclaim him through all this?” (p.37)

The second section, by Michael Haykin, provides some evangelical perspectives from the 18th Century and Revivals. He shows again, that by and large, Evangelicals of this era who witnessed revival, nevertheless believed the “extraordinary” gifts of the Spirit to have been for the Apostolic era (p.160). Jonathan Edwards was, for example, actually a Calvinist and cessationist. God’s power was identified in the preaching of the Gospel and the renewed zeal for missionary work.

In the third section, McHale deals with the immediate context of the “Toronto Blessing” in the theology of the Vineyard Church, the alleged restoration of Apostles and Prophets, the Kansas City Prophets, John Wimber and Jack Deere. Here the astrological, occult and heretical roots of some Vineyard theology are traced back to the writings of Franklin Hall and William Branham perpetuated by men like Paul Cain and Bob Jones, drawing also from the Latter Rains Movement, the Manifest Sons of God and Restorationism.

The catalogue of false doctrines and failed prophecies propounded by the Vineyard leadership is a lamentable, but self-imposed indictment on a movement that has clearly departed from the Scriptures for their spiritual authority. During a Vineyard pastor’s conference, Wimber apparently apologised to the Catholic Church on behalf of Protestants, and in a seminar on church planting states, ..the pope….by the way, is very responsive to the charismatic movement and is himself a born-again evangelical. If you read any of his texts concerning salvation, you’d know he is preaching the gospel as clear as anybody is preaching it in the world today. (Michael Horton ed. Power Religion, 1992, p.80)

John Armstrong comments, This assertion of the possibility that a Christian leader who is bound by his office and his creed to regard anyone who believes in justification by grace through faith alone as “eternally lost” (cf. The Canons of the Council of Trent) may be “preaching the gospel as clear[ly] as anybody is preaching it in the world today” surely says more about the confusion of Protestant preaching than the faithfulness of the pope to the gospel. And if John Wimber thinks the pope is preaching the gospel as clearly, ought one not to seriously question Wimber’s understanding of the gospel? (Michael Horton ed. Power Religion, 1992, p.80)

Wayne Grudem, in trying to soften the damage of such statements, claims in Wimber’s defence that, Wimber was an unknown pastor in a church of perhaps 700 people, and when he himself was developing his understanding of spiritual gifts….he had no idea that every sentence that he had said……would be scrutinised for any hint of doctrinal error by his critics
Power & Truth: Vineyard Position Paper 4, 1993, p.52

McHale also shows John Wimber to be something of a chameleon, modifying his theology and shifting his ground whenever challenged. The authors point to significant variations in his published testimonies (1995, p.221ff); they question the authorship of books bearing his name (p.222); note his attack on the need for a rational mind (p.235); and his unfulfilled prophecies (p.239ff).

These include claims made in 1989 that a new strain of AIDS would be released which only the church would be able to heal (p.239), and that

“Angelic appearances would become common in meetings and even the Lord will appear in the coming weeks, months and years. Healings will become so common that even children will be able to perform them on a regular basis…It will go beyond that which was done during the Apostolic period of the First Century….even resurrections will be common…You [will] even see amputated arms and limbs growing out when the light from the evangelist’s hands hits them…” (p.7)

J.I Packer, in Laid-Back Religion, criticises this kind of super-supernaturalism as “Hot Tub Religion”.

“Hot tub religion….attempts to harness the power of God to the priorities of self-centredness……Symptoms of hot tub religion today include…an overheated supernaturalism that seeks signs, wonders, visions, prophecies, and miracles; constant soothing syrup from electronic preachers and the liberal pulpit; anti-intellectual sentimentalism and emotional “highs” deliberately cultivated, the Christian equivalent of cannabis and coca.” (1989: p.53, 58)

More recently, J.I. Packer, has apparently, engaged in “fair-minded dialogue with John Wimber and the Vineyard leaders.” He summed up his assessment, rather charitably, in this way,

My God is not frustrated by any failure on man’s part (as Wimber suggests). I think that this is the Bible’s view of God; He is a sovereign God; He does what He pleases….God works out all things according to His own will (Eph 1:11). God does whatever He pleases (Ps 135). And if you are going to lose sight of that aspect of the matter, well then, your doctrine of God is out of shape. (quoted by John Armstrong in Power Religion, 1992, 82)

McHale & Haykin also reveal some fascinating but less well known insights into the ministry of Jack Deere, heralded as the “theologian” of the Vineyard Movement.

“To use Jack Deere’s background as a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary without informing people that Dallas removed him from his position because of his changing views, is misleading.” (p.241)

Furthermore, Deere is apparently no longer working with the Vineyard Church. In a sermon preached in November 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, Deere stated

“…I became a Vineyard pastor….and thought I was very much at the cutting edge of what God was doing…..But now I am a Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, in White Fish, Montana…..now I’m a Pastor in that denomination, which is the most liberal of all the Presbyterian Churches.” (p.242)

Haykin asks why Deere would want to leave the Vineyard which at one time he believed was at the “cutting edge of what God is doing”, supposedly, the greatest movement of God since the New Testament Apostles, to pastor a church in the most liberal Presbyterian denomination? (p.242)

2.3 The Latter Rains Movement

The claims made by John Wimber in 1989 (quoted on the previous page) to increasing angelic appearances and amazing healing miracles bear a remarkable similarity to some of the prophecies given by those associated with the Latter Rains Movement, whose teachings clearly influenced the Kansas City Prophets who, in turn, are now aligned with the Vineyard Movement.

Franklin Hall is commonly regarded as the “father” of the movement which he began in 1946 in San Diego with his “fasting and prayer daily revival centre.” In that same year he published a book “Atomic Power with God through Fasting and Prayer” (Phoenix: Hall Deliverance Foundation) that had, according to Clifford Hill, an immense impact on the whole Pentecostal world, including the Kansas City Prophets. (They Shall Prophesy 1990, p.136)

One of the outstanding elements in Hall’s teaching was his belief that Christians can actually become immortal through progressive stages of spiritual growth. His teachings on attaining immortality in this life through psycho-spiritual exercises and through “holiness” or righteous living have provided the foundation upon which many subsequent teachings in the charismatic/restoration churches have been based. Hall believed that in the last days a generation would arise who will experience “real gushers and torrents of a long, past due RAIN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. A rain of IMMORTALITY UPON THE EARTH…..permanent, lasting freedoms from all sickness, harmful, accident things and defeat will come about. Freedom from the imprisonment of all gravitational forces……. (Hill, 1990. p.136)

The teaching given by the Kansas City Prophets on the subject of the special power that is going to be exercised by the last generation preceding the Second Coming of Christ bears remarkable similarity to Hall’s teaching. They believe the generation born since 1973 to be the “special generation” marked out by God for this anointing…(p.137)

They refer to the children as “an elected seed generation and an endtime. Omega generation who will possess the Spirit without measure as the manifested sons of God.” They will do “ten thousand times the miracles in the Book of Acts.

They will move their hands and the power of God will go like flashes of lightening, and as they go like this over a million people, if a person is missing an arm, it will instantly be created….they will walk through walls…they will be translated….hundreds of dead will be raised during meetings in ball park stadiums,” They will speak to meetings of a million or more people when multitudes will be saved; amazing miracles will take place such as “eyes put back in eye sockets”; they will be invincible and immortal; they will be used to confound unbelievers and subdue the nations (from KCF tapes). (Hill, 1990. p.137)

John Armstrong traces another source of the Latter Rains Movement which has influenced the Kansas City Prophets through the relationship between William Branham and Paul Cain, the leading prophet at KCF.

Cain was also an associate of the healer-evangelist William Branham, who received revelations from an angel…Among those revelations were the following: the doctrine of the Trinity is “a doctrine of demons”; Eve’s sin involved sexual relations with the serpent, but the “seed of God” were Branham’s followers, otherwise known as “the Bride” or “the New Breed” (popular designations in the “Latter Rain” version of Pentecostalism)………Among those who acknowledge his influence on their ministries are Jack Coe, A.A. Allen, T.L.Osborne, Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, and Benny Hinn; the latter two claim he was a prophet. So does Paul Cain.…(who)...refuses to distance himself completely from Branham. In an interview conducted by Kevin Springer a question regarding this matter was asked of Cain. You have been quoted from a taped talk as saying, “William Branham was the greatest prophet in the 20th century.” How could this be true if he denied the historic, orthodox view of the Trinity….and if he taught the so-called “Serpent’s Seed” theory of original sin?….How could he teach such error and have a genuine gift? Cain responded that such errors were “such a small part of his presentation that it just swept by everyone, until it became his pet theology” and then turned attention to Branham’s character, which was not the issue in question:

“No one ever challenged {Branham’s] Christ-like character.” Affirming that he had indeed said that Branham was “the greatest prophet of the 20th century,” Cain nevertheless insisted that that was due not to Branham’s doctrines but to “his gifting in the word of knowledge.” After all (and notice the pragmatism here that so often resists genuine criticism), during that time thousands came to a saving knowledge of Christ in his meetings.” Armstrong in Michael Horton ed. Power Religion, 1992, p.67)

Armstrong asks how it is possible for anyone to come to “a saving knowledge of Christ” through the ministry of one whose theology is so distorted.

Responding to claims that the Kansas City Prophets, now under the authority of the Vineyard Church, have repented of some “Latter Rains” teaching, Clifford Hill writes,

They made a vague reference to false doctrine in that they repented of “the attempt by some prophetic ministers to establish doctrine or practice by revelation alone, apart from clear biblical support” (point 2). But they did not say which doctrines they were abandoning. The printed teaching notes issued to conference participants at Holy Trinity, Brompton, London, in July 1990 referred to some prophets receiving a “constant flow of revelatory information” and being “more at home in heaven than on earth” and others who “will receive words, dreams, visions daily, or at least very regularly. Will have “open visions” at least occasionally (i.e. angelic visitations, theophanies, audible voice).” All of which sounds very much like the teaching KFC have been giving for a number of years that “the end time/Omega generation super-church will do ten thousand times the miracles in the Book of Acts”. (Clifford Hill, 1990, p.138)

2.4 The Word of Faith – Latter Rains – Vineyard Connection

But what have the teachings of men like Rodney Howard-Browne and Benny Hinn or the Latter Rains Movement got to do with the “Toronto Blessing”?

McHale & Haykin are not alone in showing that the influence of heretical “Word of Faith” teacher Benny Hinn over the Vineyard Movement has been deep, long standing and significant. John Arnott, pastor of the Toronto Vineyard, admits to having been a friend of Benny Hinn for 20 years and that he has been a leading figure in shaping his view of divine healing and anointing (p.245). In January 1994, John Wimber also confessed the impact Benny Hinn has had upon him,

“…he was the most sweet, broken person I’ve ever talked to. I cry out now, thinking about it. He’s so full of the Holy Ghost. I just loved him.” (p.249)

The indisputable link between the “Word of Faith” preacher Rodney Howard-Browne and Randy Clark, the other Vineyard leader to have introduced the “Blessing” in Toronto, is also reiterated by McHale & Haykin (p.249ff).

According to Alpha magazine (July 1994), the “authorised” account of the events leading to the “Toronto Blessing” are that John Arnott, the pastor of the Toronto Vineyard church, was searching for “a fresh spiritual anointing” and so attended a meeting led by Benny Hinn, a neo-Pentecostal “Faith teacher”.

Benny Hinn’s particular emphasis is upon a powerful “anointing” he is able to bestow simply by blowing on people and according to Guy Chevreau, by 1992, Arnott and Hinn had known each other for many years in Toronto and at that time Arnott had “longed for a similar kind of empowerment” as Hinn demonstrated. A year later, Arnott was also attracted to the “Holy laughter” ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne, although he was troubled by the fact that he had not been slain or received an anointing as others did. (Chevreau, 1994:22-23)

Randy Clark, another “key figure in the Airport Vineyard Renewal” received his anointing through Rodney Howard-Browne at Kenneth Hagin’s “Rhema” church. In the Alpha article (July 1994), Clark admitted having had reservations over “theological differences” with Hagin. However, he believed the Holy Spirit rebuked him saying, “how badly do you want to be touched afresh?” So Clark and Arnott, leaders of the Toronto Vineyard Fellowship went in search of spiritual blessings from men whose teachings have been criticised as heretical and cultic.

According to the Church Times (23 September 1994), the “strange things” which occurred in Toronto, “happened after a visit by Rodney Howard-Browne.” Subsequently, the manifestations of hysterical laughter, growling, shaking, and falling associated with Howard-Browne and Hinn’s ministry were experienced not only at the Toronto Vineyard Church, but as Vineyard leaders and lay people visited the church from around the world, they too received an anointing, and the manifestations spread to their churches as well.

If Randy Clark’s blessing had its origin in the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne at Hagin’s church, and John Arnott’s at the hands of Benny Hinn, another of Hagin’s disciples and a close friend, the origin of this phenomena must seriously be questioned.

It is clear from the quoted testimony of Benny Hinn who claims “like a jolt of electricity, my whole body began to vibrate all over...” and of Rodney Howard-Browne who says he tapped “heaven’s electric supply” (see Chapter 4), that these men perceive the “anointing” of the Holy Spirit which they received and which they in turn pass on to others has the characteristics of electricity.

Very worryingly, that is precisely how Randy Clark, describes his own understanding of God’s “Blessing”. The following is his testimony of what happened when he went to a meeting led by Rodney Howard-Browne.

I wanted to be prayed for so I came forward, Rodney’s coming by “Fill, fill, fill, come to me, fill, fill” and I went, (Randy Clark gets on the floor to show what happened to him) and I went down like this, now you have to understand (laughter), I had been touched by the power of God before, in a Baptist church in ’84, and in the Vineyard in ’89, but every time major baptisms of the Spirit, I was getting electrocuted, I was doing this, shaking like this, feeling …..from electricity all the next day in the joints, now I had a couple of those, so I equate strong anointing with shaking and electricity only problem is I’m not shaking, I don’t feel no electricity……why don’t you just get up.. alright…(laughter) nothings working, something happened, I can’t move, OK God I don’t understand this, I’ll just lay here, I can’t move, I might as well lay (laughter) while I’m laying there, there’s this woman two bodies down, she gets the cackles, she starts cackling and she gets the anointing, and you can hear her, (sound of Randy Clark making the sound of a pig grunting with audience laughing). At first I think its just natural, I’m just laughing because she has the anointing, and I was real laughing and I couldn’t stop laughing…(shows how he attempted to get up off the floor). I get together with the other guys and we start to go home only problem is the longer after that…how drunk have we got (laughter) so we’re going down that mile walk (shows how he staggered home with much laughter from the audience) I’m afraid the police are going to pick us up, and how are we going to explain this, laughing our heads off, that was wonderful…only problem is that was August ’93, now a long time, and I’ve only been like that three times…I think (because of a Baptist background) subconsciously its difficult for us to enter into this holy drunkenness……so Rodney says, “Tomorrow night were going to have a Holy Ghost blow out”………(Taken from a Toronto Vineyard video and included in “A Plague in the Land” a video recording of a talk by Alan Morrison (1995))

In Randy Clark’s own testimony he equated this “blessing” with a powerful force like electricity, associated with being thrown to the floor, a loss of control over the body, shaking, animal noises, drunkenness and hysterical laughter. Furthermore his testimony was very positive toward Howard-Browne whom he called “Rodney.” He assumes that this “anointing” was divine in origin, and more powerful than those he had previously received “like electricity”. There is no hint of the apparent theological reservations he had which were mentioned in the Alpha article (July 1994).

What ever it was that Clark received from Howard-Browne, and Arnott from Hinn has come to be known as the “Toronto Blessing” as they in turn have laid hands on Vineyard Church leaders and those of other denominations sympathetic to their ministry. It is clearly that the phenomena which Randy Clark describes in his own testimony is identical to that associated with the “Faith” teachers, and have come to represent the hallmarks of the Toronto Blessing.

2.5 Biblical Injunctions Ignored

The leaders of the Vineyard Church in Toronto, by their actions and relationships were already seriously compromised by association with heretical “Faith teachers” long before the “Toronto Blessing” occurred. It is inconceivable that the Spirit of Truth would tell Randy Clark or anyone else to ignore theological error of this magnitude in order to receive a “blessing” reduced to the level of a “jolt of electricity” no matter how pleasant, from the hands of heretics.

Scripture specifically warns that false teachers will introduce destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1-22) and that deceiving spirits will entice people away from the truth (1 Timothy 4:1). It is sobering therefore that while in Toronto, Eleanor Mumford, the wife of the London Vineyard Church leader, claims she was told “don’t question this, just receive it…” (from an audio tape of her testimony in Toronto used at Holy Trinity Brompton).

The apostle John is most emphatic in 2 John 10 “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him”. How can the Holy Spirit guide someone to do that which He has plainly and explicitly forbidden in the Scriptures He inspired?

It must also be asked, why it is necessary for people to attend a “receiving meeting” to receive and pass on this so called “blessing”? Supporters of the “Toronto Blessing” frequently urge sceptics to attend a meeting “to experience it for yourself” not critically, but with an open mind asking God to bless if this is of Him.

The Bible in fact teaches us to do the very opposite. However, it is far from an invariable biblical principle either that we should assess claims to God’s activity personally and uncritically, or that we must look at the fruits to make an assessment.
For example, claims that Christ has returned in secret are not to be assessed personally: “So, if they say to you, `Lo, he is in the wilderness,’ Do not go out”. Nor are they to be assessed uncritically: “if they say, `Lo, he is in the inner rooms,’ Do not believe it” (Matt 24:26).
If the claim had been made that Jesus was in Toronto we would be entitled not to go and not to believe.

Why should we then go if the claim is that the Spirit is moving in Toronto? Unbelief can be a sign of faith! (John Richardson. From a talk given at a conference “Toronto Blessing? It’s OK to ask Questions” at St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, 16th September 1995)

In the conversation, recorded in John 4, between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, to her question as to whether they should worship God in Jerusalem or Samaria, Jesus did not say, “Go to Toronto.” The Holy Spirit is sovereign and omnipresent. Deceiving spirits are not.

The history of the Roman Catholic Church is replete with similar claims to extra-biblical revelations and heresies associated with visions of Mary at particular locations, where divine blessings and healings are reputedly attainable. This deception continues on a massive scale. According to Time magazine, annual attendance figures are: Lourdes (5.5 million); Knock (1.5 million); Fatima (4.5 million); Czestachowa (5 million); with Medjugorje catching up fast. In so far as they draw people toward Mary and new revelations, and away from the Lord Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures, pilgrims, however sincere, are being deceived.

This should also warn us not to be mesmerised by numbers, or confuse size and success with spiritual truth. Yonggi Cho’s church in South Korea, for example, at 750,000 members and the largest in the world, is, nevertheless, small in comparison to the Buddhist cult of Saki Gakkai, (a Buddhist version of “Health and Wealth”), on which it appears to be modelled. (Hanegraaff, 1994:352)

It is unnecessary to visit a place to receive a blessing which the Lord is quite capable of giving where we already are. If you are tempted to visit a church where these phenomena have occurred, ask yourself why? Are you looking for a short cut to spiritual growth? Assurance of salvation? An awareness of the presence of God? These things and more, God offers now, right where you are, as you obey His Word and trust the Holy Spirit who inspired them, to continue His work in you.

How should we respond to the teachings of men like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Rodney Howard-Browne and Benny Hinn? (see appendix for a selection of quotations taken from their teaching). Gerald Coates offers what appears to be a charitable and tolerant approach. He is wary of judgement based on the spiritual roots of Hagin and Hinn.

“Many key biblical characters were less than perfect. King David and the Apostle Peter are examples. God used them nevertheless. Men and women who take risks are going to get into trouble. That doesn’t mean we should write them off…” (Alpha Magazine, July 1994)

Such uncritical reasoning is very dangerous. David and Peter did indeed sin, as we do, but they repented, as we must. That is the only reason God continued to use them. That is the difference. Jesus said that a bad tree will not bear good fruit (Matthew 7:18). According to Philip Foster, vicar of St Matthew’s Church, Cambridge, Gerald Coates, while speaking about the Toronto Blessing at Spring Harvest at Easter 1995 said,

It’s very important that we judge a movement by the best and not the worst. If you want to look at Conservative Party politics, don’t look at the worst and then write Conservatism off as a result of it. If you want to look at Socialism or the Labour Party, don’t look at the worst and then write Socialism off as a result of it. You always look at the best and it’s very important, as we shall see later, we look at the best that is coming out of this and that’ll help us then deal with other things that are perhaps not honouring God. (Taken from the script of a talk given by Philip Foster at a Conference on the Toronto Blessing held in Cambridge, 16th September 1995)

Such natural logic is actually very dangerous and deceptive. Indeed Foster calls it “frightening”, for this is precisely what many Evangelicals did in pre-war Nazi Germany. We must evaluate this movement by the truth test, that is, how it matches up to the Scriptures, the revealed Word of God, and not on the basis of their sincerity or the alleged benefits or “fruit” of this movement.

Mike Fearon is rather more blunt in branding Frederick Kenyon and Kenneth Hagin’s work as “nakedly from the occult” (1994, p.169), and Rodney Howard-Browne’s ministry as “remarkably similar to Hindu practice..” (p.92). He also concedes that there is a “straight line connecting” the leaders at Toronto with these Faith teachers (p.106). However, if this is true, it is surely shocking of Fearon, and dangerous logic, to say that the founders of the “Toronto Blessing”, Randy Clark and John Arnott, were merely “unwise in their choice of spiritual mentors.” (p.111). God has commanded that we have nothing whatsoever to do with false teachers. (Gal 1:8-9, Titus 3:10, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 2 John 1:10-11).

Nor is it good enough of Fearon to say that such contact with heresy and occult teaching merely, “watered down the Spirit’s anointing at times.” (p111). Surely it is not merely a question of “wisdom” or “dilution” as he suggests. God has plainly prohibited contact with false teachers, and any “blessing” apparently received from their ministries, against the will of God, must surely be as lethal as the fruit eaten in the Garden of Eden because it was “pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6). When the heart of the Christian faith is at stake, and heresy has been substituted for the truth, there is no place for compromise or tolerance. The apostle Paul was very specific in the way he spoke to Elymas the sorcerer,

“You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)

Jesus was no less scathing in his denunciation of false teachers.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert…you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are….You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:15, 33)

We must never determine “authenticity” or truth on the basis of sincerity or personal loyalty, but rather by the plain teaching of Scripture. In Titus 1:9, the Apostle Paul instructs us to “…hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that we can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Heresy must be exposed, repented of and pruned before God does so in judgement.

Read about Stephen’s books and other articles here

SECULAR REPORT ON THE ALPHA CONNECTION WITH THE “TORONTO BLESSING

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Jon Ronson, October 2000 EXTRACT

Part One www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2000/oct/21/weekend7.weekend

Part Two http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2000/oct/21/weekend.jonronson

“…1994,” says Nicky. “It was such an amazing year.” Indeed it was: on January 20, 1994, at a concrete church next to Toronto airport, 80% of the congregation, apropos of nothing, suddenly fell to the floor and began writhing around, apparently singing in tongues and convulsing violently. Rumours about this milestone – which became known as the Toronto Blessing – quickly spread to Britain.
Nicky flew to Toronto to see it for himself. Was it mass hysteria or a miracle, a real experience of the Holy Spirit? “I don’t talk about it now,” says Nicky. “It divides people. It splits churches. It is very controversial. But I’ll tell you – I think the Toronto Blessing was a wonderful, wonderful thing.” Nicky returned from Canada, spoke passionately at HTB about the Toronto Blessing and, lo and behold, his congregation, too, began rolling on the floor, etc. The services soon became so popular, with queues around the block, that they were compelled to introduce two Sunday-evening sittings – and still not everyone could get in.

HTB became Britain’s richest church. (It still is: last year’s income was £5.1m.)
This evangelical euphoria lasted the year, with miracles such as Prison Alpha cropping up all over the place. And then it ebbed away.
But its influence has lasted. The Toronto Blessing was the kick-start Alpha needed.

…Nicky’s new direction combined with his charisma, his dazzlingly constructed weekly talks chipping away at our doubts, and the Toronto Blessing caused Alpha’s popularity to explode through the 90s.

NOTE THE CLOSE TORONTO-HTB-NICKY GUMBEL-ALPHA CONNECTION ABOVE!

IF ONE READS THE COMPLETE REPORT [ANOTHER SEVEN PAGES IF I HAD REPRODUCED IT HERE IN ITS ENTIRETY], THE
GUARDIAN JOURNALIST JON RONSON’S
ALPHA COURSE EXPERIENCE IS DECIDELY ANTI-NICKY GUMBEL AND ANTI-ALPHA TILL IT IS INFLUENCED BY “SIGNS AND WONDERS” TOWARDS THE END. IF ANYTHING MIGHT HAVE STOOD OUT SIGNIFICANTLY FOR THIS NON-CHRISTIAN JOURNALIST, A JEW AND AGNOSTIC, AND BEEN REPORTED DUTIFULLY BY HIM, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE BASIC CHRISTIAN TEACHING THAT MAN IS SINFUL, THAT JESUS, A JEW, CAME TO SAVE MAN FROM SIN, AND THAT ONE HAS TO REPENT OF SIN TO BE ‘CONVERTED’, A WORD HE OTHERWISE USES SIX TIMES. IN THE ENTIRE REPORT, I COULD NOT FIND ANY EVIDENCE THAT THERE WAS A CALL TO REPENTANCE. INSTEAD, IT WAS ONLY AFTER THE “WEEKEND AWAY IN KIDDERMINSTER” WHERE THEY “ASKED FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT” AND EXPERIENCED SPEAKING IN “TONGUES” AND THE HEALING MINISTRY THAT NICKY GUMBEL APPEARS TO HAVE INFORMED THE PARTICIPANTS THAT THEY “
must not take an unhealthy interest in horror movies, ouija boards, palmists, healers, and so on.

FROM JON RONSON’S AND OTHER REPORTS THAT I HAVE READ, IT APPEARS TO ME THAT MANY ALPHA PARTICIPANTS’ CONVERSIONS OCCUR NOT SO MUCH AS A RESULT OF A SERIES OF TALKS BASED ON CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE AND APPEALING TO FAITH AND REASON BUT AS A RESULT OF THE EXPERIENCE OF PHENOMENA OF SPEAKING IN TONGUES, HEALING, RECEIVING A PROPHETIC WORD, ETC. AS A FIDES ET RATIO CATHOLIC, YET CHARISMATIC, I AM UNABLE TO ACCEPT THAT THE ALPHA APPROACH IS SUITABLE OR NECESSARY FOR ADOPTION BY CATHOLICS.

WHILE NEVER FORGETTING THE HERETICAL ERRORS OF ALPHA NOTED BY R.J. GRIGAITIS, WE NOW EXAMINE THREE CATHOLIC ARTICLES ON THE “TORONTO BLESSING” WHICH HAS DIRECTLY INFLUENCED HOLY TRINITY BROMPTON, ITS VICAR NICKY GUMBEL, AND THEREFORE ALPHA

1. A Catholic Theologian examines the
Toronto Blessing/River Movement
by Colin B. Donovan, STL of EWTN [Eternal Word Television Network]

http://www.catholicreason.com/shtml/torontotreatise.shtml

TORONTO BLESSING (a little treatise) a.k.a. The Anointing, Revival, Father’s Blessing

I. CHARISMATIC GRACES (In General)

a. All authentic charisms are at the service of the Body of Christ, the Church (1 Corinthians 12, 14). As gifts of the Holy Spirit, they are supernatural graces beyond the power of human striving and human nature (e.g. miracle working), though some may build upon the natural talents of the recipient (e.g. teaching). St. Paul contrasts these charismata with “the greater gifts” of Faith, Hope and Charity (1 Corinthians 13) which he says have lasting value. These “theological virtues” unite the person’s mind and will to God. As a consequence, the Church teaches that Faith, Hope and Charity are necessary for salvation but the charismata are not. St. Paul’s experience at Corinth demonstrated rather early in the Church how susceptible these charisms are to exaggeration. In another context, he would even warn the Corinthians that the devil can appear as an angel of light (1 Corinthians 11:14). Similarly, both St. Peter and St. John (1 Peter 5:8-9; 1 John 4:1) warn us of this danger.

b. St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae [ST II-II q177] tells us that the Holy Spirit does not accomplish the charisms directly but through the mediation of angels. Since they are within the power of the angelic nature, they are also capable of demonic imitation. It is difficult to explain the “charismatic power of speech” of a Hitler, for instance, on purely natural grounds. It is for these reasons that most spiritual writers, especially the mystical doctor St. John of the Cross, warn us not to seek such extraordinary phenomenon. The Magisterium, likewise, had this to say at the Second Vatican Council.

Whether these charisms be very remarkable or more simple and widely diffused, they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation since they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly desired (my emphasis) nor is it from them that the fruits of apostolic labors are to be presumptuously expected. Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 19- 21). [Lumen Gentium 12]

Unfortunately, the appearance in the Church of a “sola scriptura” (Scripture alone) mentality has robbed many Catholics of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom embodied in the Church’s Sacred Tradition. We need to recover our faith in Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium if this trend is to be reversed.

II. DISCERNMENT (In General)

a. The Apostle John encourages us to test the spirits (1 John 4) and over the years the Church has developed criteria to determine whether the fruits are good or bad (Matthew 7:15-20). St. John teaches that if anyone denies Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 John 4:3) it is proof that the person does not have the Spirit of God. We can call this the doctrinal test of the fruit. The Spirit of God would never lead one away from the truth about Christ. Since the Church is an extension of the mystery of the Incarnation, the Spirit of God would never lead one away from the Catholic Church or Her teachings. Similarly, the Spirit of God would never lead one away from the practice of the faith (morally, devotionally, sacramentally). Christ has left us the means of salvation and His Spirit would never deprive us of them. This could be called the practical test of the fruit. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21-23). Positively said, the Holy Spirit’s activity (including among non-Catholics) must necessarily tend toward Catholic truth and unity (doctrine and practice), no matter how remote that unity might appear.

b. On the other hand, a spirit which acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh is of God (1 John 4:2). Such doctrinal correctness is a motive of credibility in the authenticity of a charism or event. Yet, a person may simply be operating by the human spirit fortified by Faith and may not be manifesting an extraordinary gift. To determine whether a given phenomenon exceeds human nature calls for a discernment beyond simple orthodoxy. When a bishop declares an event to be “worthy of belief” or “not worthy of belief” he does so based upon both scientific (can it be explained?) and theological (is it from God?) criteria. If he faithfully and prudently performs this discernment, there is little likelihood that he would err. Although such a decision is not infallible, the prudent Catholic will give it great weight, and in any case faithfully obey any regulations he may enact.

c. Since only the Magisterium has the charism of infallibility, a local bishop isn’t able to positively affirm that a given phenomenon is from God. It belongs to the Pope, or the bishops acting collegially (Lumen Gentium 25), to make such a determination. The Popes do this quite frequently when they affirm the miraculous character of a cure offered in support of a Cause for Canonization. When they grant an official status to an apparition such as Lourdes (by canonizing the seer and granting a Feast Day for the apparition itself), we can be certain that it is from God. Only a few mystical phenomenon ever achieve this degree of certainty.

d. There is yet another dimension of the discernment which needs to be considered. Since charisms are given to build up the Church, there is no necessary connection with personal sanctity. Saints, sinners and even unbelievers have manifested these gifts. The pagan prophet Balaam was given the Divine spirit of prophecy in order to authenticate Israel as the People of God (Numbers 22). Thus the moral state of the recipient (good or bad) does not by itself indicate a true or false charism. When actually under the constraint of the Spirit of God, however, the true charismatic could not say or do anything contrary to that Spirit. No one could claim, for instance, that the Spirit of God led him to get drunk or do anything sinful, although he might at other times do such things. This is why the mystical phenomena that takes place during the life of a person is considered equivocal evidence of holiness and may even complicate a Cause for Canonization.

e. Individuals can also do much to discern the spirit. As noted earlier, it is easier to dismiss a phenomenon as certainly NOT from God than it is to determine its exact origin. For the laity especially, this is generally enough. Knowing which of the other two possibilities (human or demonic) would be secondary to knowing it was NOT from God. This has been true at apparitions such as Necedah, Wis. and Bayside, NY., where many Catholics knew something was wrong well before the local bishops judged them as unworthy of belief. Even without the episcopal grace and the help of a commission of experts, we can apply our sense of the faith, the general theology of the Church and the history of authentic mysticism to such phenomena. We need only prayerfully ask “is a particular event a credible example of the action of the Spirit of God – a Spirit incapable of any lie or sin and which can only lead people (even non-Catholics) to a deeper Catholic faith and unity?” Pending the action of the local bishop or a decision of the Holy See, this should do much to protect us from the roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8).