Saturday, March 10, 2007

WHAT ABOUT THE ALPHA COURSE?


What About The Alpha Course?

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 (1 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 (2 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.


By Ron Hanko

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Alpha Course


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 ought 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:

Isaiah 40:25-26

"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."


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:


Hebrews 10:31
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

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:

John 3:36

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.

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:


Ephesians 2:3
"by nature children of wrath."

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:


Ephesians 2:12
"...having no hope and without God in the world."

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:

John 3:16
"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."

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
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:


Acts 2:37
'...cut to the heart...'

The Philippian jailer asked urgently:

Acts 16:30
'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'

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:

1 Thessalonians 2:13
'...in truth, the word of God...'

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 ought 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,


2 Timothy 3:5
'having a form of godliness but denying its power.'

We must do better. Failure is too high a price to pay.

by Chris Hand