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 to this course. The Roman 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 those who believe that doctrine are "anathema" - they are cursed.
The Council of Trent, session VI, Canon 10, stated: "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 who hold to the Biblical doctrine of justifying faith, because her religion is based upon works. What are individual can do, and what the Church can do is what Rome basis her doctrine upon. Acceptance into the Roman 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."
Isn't 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 Roman 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, 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 who follow it to things which have no grounding in the 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. 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's 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." Scripture teaches that those who receive Christ, those who 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 conviction. For instance, there is no speaking of conviction of sin which lead to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. No mention of assurance of salvation through Christ's death! Indeed, there is a total absence of it 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.