If you've noticed lately, there has been a huge surge in two trends: 1.) More churches are offering something called ALPHA course programs, and 2.) the Christian "Blogosphere" is exploding with new stories about its dangers. What is the Alpha Course, where did it come from, and why are so many sounding alarm bells? Our ministry at Stand Up For The Truth urges readers to compare everything we consume with God's Word, seeking Him through the Bible to help you discern. To do that, we are going to take some time in this article to explore these questions and provide numerous links. We urge you to research these and consider all sides.
What is ALPHA? The Alpha Course was started in the United Kingdom, at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in 1977, and knows no denominational boundaries. Anglicans, Methodist, Congregationalist, United Reformed, Pentecostal, Salvation Army, Baptists, Presbyterian, Charismatic Fellowships, Evangelical Free Churches, and the Roman Catholic Church all run Alpha Courses. Having attracted 18.5 million guests since 1993, the Alpha Course is advertised as a non-confrontational means of sharing the truths of the Christian faith. Even Time Magazine is noticing how ALPHA has surged worldwide in 2012.
Alpha gives everyone the opportunity to explore the meaning of life in a relaxed, friendly setting. The Alpha course usually meets once a week for 10 weeks, including a one-day or weekend getaway. Sessions begin with a meal, followed by a short talk and time to discuss what's been taught.
During the discussion, everyone is welcome to contribute their opinions and no question is considered hostile or too simple. Questions might include—Is there a God? Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Courses vary in size, from one small group meeting in a home, to hundreds of people in a church. Some courses are held over morning coffee or during a lunch hour. Most are evening courses, typically lasting 2 hours.
Many say the program has been a tremendous help and that their faith and biblical knowledge has been strengthened because of the Alpha Course. The Alpha Course begins with a presentation of the gospel message, and progresses with some solid biblical teachings.
Why Christians should examine ALPHA
I've included a long list of links at the bottom of this article pointing out strong concerns many have, and the issue many highlight is the fact that the Alpha Course can be very different depending on the church/organization that is using it. In the hands of a solid biblical teacher, the Alpha Course can be a good way to teach doctrinal truth and the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the hands of someone trying to push beliefs and practices that are biblically questionable, the Alpha Course can go in a different direction. Among the many more prominent leaders to endorse ALPHA are Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Tony Campolo, Tim Keller, J. I. Packer and others.
We all need to be discerning with our eyes and our Bibles wide open, rejecting anything that contradicts the Bible. We also need to be very familiar with the beliefs of the persons teaching the course. Remember, not all teachers align with official church teachings and vice versa.
Here are some other red flags being reported:
ORIGINS: The Alpha Course was started by Nicky Gumbel and Sandy Millar at the Anglican church in London. This church was the center of the holy laughter movement in England and Europe, and has been known for services that include being “slain in the spirit” and behaviors such as uncontrollable laughter, spasms, loud animal-like noises and physical manifestations during emotionally driven services. In some cases, these elements have found their way into the teachings of this course. (Gumbel is also a member of Tony Blair's Faith Foundation.) According to the European Institute of Protestant Studies:
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.
MULTI-DENOMINATIONAL: Because of its ecumenical appeal, many discernment ministries share concerns that key doctrine is sacrificed so as not to offend some groups. For the first time, ALPHA has appointed a Roman Catholic bishop, Michael Byrnes, to its Board of Directors. Says Got Questions:
A wide tent that is inclusive of those who hold teachings contrary to the tenets of the faith for which we are to contend (Jude 3), necessitates that the Word of God is sliced and diced into palatable portions, leading to error and following humanistic viewpoints rather than the revealed Word of the Lord. This sometimes results in the Alpha Course eventually working its way into error and ritualism, works-based salvation, and even occult manifestations. The push is for experience-driven evangelism while biblical doctrines are side-stepped or ignored.
EXPERIENTIAL/NEW AGE MYSTICISM:
Another concern many ministries have is the mystical connection to the experiential type of worship popular today. In the hands of some teachers, this will be a red flag. As researcher Erin Benziger reports on
In the Personal Freedom Outreach article "The Alpha Course - Final Answer or Fatal Attraction?" the author indicates, "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 himself has stated that the purpose of these weekends is to expect and experience various types of odd manifestations and loss of control of one's own body. This loss of control seems to directly contradict the God of the Bible, "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." 1 Corinthians 14:33. In fact, I would challenge Gumbel to present Scripture in defense of this loss of bodily control as a necessary effect of the Holy Spirit upon the believer.
INCOMPLETE GOSPEL: Still other discernment ministries report that the gospel, the Jesus, the God and the Holy Spirit of the ALPHA Course are either different or very watered down versions of what Christians will find in their Bibles. According to the The Christian Research Network Journal , there are six major differences between the program and Scripture:
- “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.
- 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. (Just a personal note here: I have watched one of Gumbel’s “teachings” and was astounded to hear him refer to sin not as sin, but as “mistakes” that we may make. The depravity of man is downplayed terribly. I can only assume that this is one of the “non-threatening” tactics of Alpha. But without a full realization of man’s absolute and utter disgusting sinfulness, one can never come to full repentance before the throne of God.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
As I end this article, it is important to acknowledge that many people who have enjoyed the ALPHA Course will wonder why we are reporting others' criticism of a popular program that offers hope and knowledge of something so good: Our God and savior, Jesus. After all, some churches are using this model without the Nick Gumbel videos, instead using their own teachers to bring biblical truth to their students. That said, as with any red flag you have, it helps to ask questions and not immediately jump to wrong conclusions when you hear the word "ALPHA."
Please know also that there is no joy in sharing information that is negative, but we are commissioned by the very words of the Bible that we are to test all things, knowing that in these times there will be a spirit of confusion that is not our Holy Spirit, and that many millions will follow the wide gate rather than the narrow path Jesus tells us of.
There are many more people who have done extensive research over years of time into the ALPHA Course, and some of there articles are below. We welcome your thoughts as you discern what you've learned.
- 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 ...
- The Alpha Course: Is It Bible-Based Or Hell-Inspired? (Part 1 of 3) The Alpha Course is sweeping through this nation, crossing the denominational divides, and spreading across the world with great rapidity.
- Do Not Be Surprised...: The Alpha Course CompromiseIt was my research into the dangers and deceptions of the Alpha Course that led me to begin this blog. As I studied not just Alpha, but many of the deceptions ...
- The Alpha Course - Final Answer or Fatal Attraction? The Alpha Course originated in the United Kingdom at Holy Trinity Brompton Church - an Anglican church in London - through curates Nicky Gumbel and ...
- What's Wrong with the Alpha CourseLighthouse Trails Research has added the Alpha Course to its...
- What is the Alpha Course?www.gotquestions.orgWhat is the Alpha Course? What is the origin of the Alpha Course? Is the Alpha Course biblical? the Alpha Course eventually works its way into error and ritualism, works-based salvation, and even occult manifestations. The push is for experience-driven evangelism while biblical doctrines are side-stepped or ignored Some teachers have used the Alpha Course to teach "kingdom now" theology, which is also called "dominionism" or "triumphalism."
- Burning Bush - A BIBLICAL ASSESSMENT OF THE ALPHA COURSE So, what are the errors and dangers of the Alpha course? The Alpha Course Presents Another Gospel. The Alpha course, though teaching some truths, has ...
- Lighting The Way Worldwide: Dangers of the Alpha CourseBelow are some research links to explain the dangers of the "Alpha Course." This course is being embraced by seeker-friendly venues in the ...
- Spiritual Research Network, Inc. - Alpha Course Alpha Course | A closer look at the ... The Dangers of The Alpha Course - Sandy Simpson · The Gospel According to Alpha ...