In the post Bill, Bono, and Blair: An Unholy Trinity? I alluded to providing further information regarding Nicky Gumbel, the Anglican who is a member of Tony Blair's Faith Foundation. My main goal, however, is to expose the dangers of the Alpha Course, of which Gumbel is the head.
You may or may not have heard of the Alpha Course. In the past two decades or so, it has swept across the UK, finding particular success amongst Roman Catholics (right there--you should be raising an eyebrow!) Alpha likes to describe itself as "a practical introduction to the Christian faith." Interesting, but if it is truly introducing the Christian faith, then why do Catholics who participate continue to attend their Catholic churches after they've completed the course? But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Alpha Course has found moderate success in America as well, with evangelical churches hurrying to include it as a new, non-threatening way to present the Gospel. But why do we need a catchy logo and an elaborately developed program to present the Gospel? Funny, but it seems to me that Jesus and the apostles just preached the Gospel, plain and simple. No tactics or techniques required. And we can be certain that they offended people in the process because the Gospel of Christ is offensive and foolish to those who are perishing! Oh, silly me, I guess that straight preaching just wouldn't be relevant enough to today's culture. I keep forgetting that God's Word nowadays has to conform to society rather than the other way around!
I want to start with a brief history of Alpha because the history that Alpha itself provides is terribly lacking in truth and detail. It's true, Alpha began in the 1970s at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London. But it's not Alpha's early history I want to focus on so much as it's recent history, namely since Nicky Gumbel took the stage as leader and head. I've decided to tackle this topic in multiple posts in the interest of time and attention. Throughout these posts I hope to present the idea that the Alpha Course does not teach the Gospel as presented by Jesus Christ and the apostles and, as if that wasn't dangerous enough, that it's roots lie in New Age, anti-Biblical practices. Putting it bluntly, I believe that the Alpha Course is being used as a tool of Satan, with a "Christian" mask of "Christian" terms and "Christian" supporters. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to share my research with you.
Alpha likes to tout and advertise that "Over thirteen million people have explored the Christian faith at Alpha courses all over the world." Well, that's great. So how many of those people genuinely accepted Christ and continue to serve Him today? Numbers mean absolutely nothing, especially when it comes to true faith in Christ. Was it not Jesus Himself who said, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."?
Nicky Gumbel took over Alpha in 1990 and is the main architect of the course as it now exists. He happens to be Vicar at Holy Trinity Brompton church in London. HTB is an Anglican church, a denomination that has been widely accepting and tolerant of error (ordination of women and moral issues to start) for quite some time. This leads to my first hesitation: If Nicky Gumbel is so faithful to the Word and Truth of God, then why does he continue to hold a position in an Anglican church?
But my bigger issue with HTB is that it was this church that helped spread the Toronto Blessing across England. While I don't wish to go into great detail about the Toronto Blessing here, a brief examination is required in order to realize the gravity of the reality that this is where Alpha's roots lie.
The Toronto Blessing is a New Age movement that infiltrated some churches in the early nineties. With a few Christian terms tossed in to aid in the deception, the Toronto Blessing emphasizes experience and a realization of a higher self as truth. In fact, those who receive "the blessing" find themselves "drunk" with laughter in a "slaying of the spirit" experience. Once Gumbel received "the blessing" himself from Eleanor Mumford (who is greatly responsible for bringing "the blessing" to England from Toronto) he wasted no time effecting the same phenomenon in his own church. Author and apologist Dave Hunt wrote that HTB "...became the center of holy laughter for England and Europe." Following services and prayer meetings, the church would provide taxis for those in attendance who were too "drunk in the Spirit" to even drive home!
A 1994 Time Magazine article entitled "Laughing for the Lord" says:
"It's Sunday evening in London's fashionable Knightsbridge neighborhood. Though pathetically tiny flocks of Londoners attend many Anglican services, Holy Trinity Brompton has a standing-room-only turnout of 1500. After the usual Scripture readings, prayers and singing, the chairs are cleared away. Curate Nicky Gumbel prays that the Holy Spirit will come upon the congregation. Soon a woman begins laughing. Others gradually join her with hearty belly laughs. A young worshipper falls to the floor, hands twitching. Another falls, then another and another. Within half an hour there are bodies everywhere as supplicants sob, shake, roar like lions, and strangest of all laugh uncontrollably. This frenzied display has become known as the 'laughing revival' or 'Toronto Blessing'. After first appearing at Holy Trinity only last May, laughing revivals have been reported in Anglican parishes from Manchester to York to Brighton. At London's Holy Trinity, schoolteacher Denise Williams says she 'came here a little skeptical' but soon was caught up in the fervor. 'There was a lovely feeling of warmth and peace.' Lines outside Holy Trinity now start forming an hour and a half before services."
I ask you, does this sound like the services of the early church as described by the apostle Paul? This description sounds like the exact opposite of the type of orderly worship that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14.
Those of you who may be willing to give Gumbel the benefit of the doubt are saying, "Okay, but that's the church, not Alpha per se." Well, to begin with, Alpha is 100% linked with Holy Trinity Brompton (if you follow this link you will see that their International Head Office is located at the church). Secondly, Gumbel has most assuredly brought these same practices into the Alpha Course proper. Not only does the course focus greatly on the Holy Spirit (as opposed to the repentance of sins and Christ crucified and resurrected for our salvation) but Alpha culminates into one great weekend experience known as the Holy Spirit Weekend. Let's be honest, if his religious beliefs lie in something as ensnaring as the Toronto Blessing, surely those beliefs will filter into his other religious endeavors!
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. In the same article, Gumbel himself is quoted as saying, "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." 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.
Sounds to me like Gumbel could be great friends with Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, and the like. All of these individuals draw from New Age thoughts and practices and dangerously emphasize feeling and experience over the Truth of God's Word. As long as it feels like God is making me warm and tingly it must really be Him, right? So who needs Scripture if I have a warm fuzzy feeling and I'm shaking uncontrollably? Christian, beware of ANYTHING that promotes feeling over God's already spoken truth. Realization of Alpha's approach to "truth" leads to the conclusion that any conversions that are supposedly taking place are wholly emotional and stand little chance of actually passing the test of true faith and a true walk with God.
An article at Deception in the Church entitled "The Dangers of the Alpha Course" quotes Gumbel as admitting, "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." Is anyone else concerned by that quote? The Alpha training manual and videos tell the participant that "We live in the age of the Spirit." Really? Where is that in Scripture? Quite the opposite of God's Word, this instead sounds very reminiscent of the New Age idea of the Age of Aquarius.
(If I may take a slight but brief detour: Indeed, far from being a brief fad of the eighties, New Age practices and ideas have been running rampant for centuries--even in the early church--and they continue to impact and infiltrate our churches today. For more information on the dangers of the New Age, email me and I can send you a list of resources for further research.)
A quick glance at some of the "great" men who endorse Alpha should also cause eyebrows to raise. Men like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Tony Campolo among others. It should come as no surprise that apostates such as these would give high praise to a "Christian" course that elevates emotion over truth and that focuses more on meeting a temporary felt need than on the true unregenerate spiritual condition of a person's heart.
On Saturday evening of the Holy Spirit weekend, Gumbel will pray for the participants and for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. So how do we know that they have actually received the true Holy Spirit. Well, I would argue that we don't know which spirit these people are receiving. Believers are clearly called to test the spirits (1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.) and it is quite obvious that Gumbel has chosen to ignore this call of Scripture. But for Gumbel and proponents of the Alpha Course, one of the signs that the Holy Spirit has descended is that the people begin to speak in tongues. I think it is safe to say, however, that there are many true, Bible-believing Christians walking around today who have never spoken in tongues, so from my perspective this can hardly be a definitive sign of the Holy Spirit.
How do we test the spirits? We use God's Word and if what is said or experienced is contrary to God's Word, then we must reject it. And if it is contrary to God's Word, then we can only conclude that the spirits being called upon and descending are anything but the Holy Spirit. In his book Questions of Life Gumbel uses 1 Corinthians 14:2 as his proof that speaking in tongues is a form of prayer. He does us a great favor here by perfectly illustrating the dangers of taking Scripture out of context! Let's look at the verse in context, shall we?
1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
According to my study, the gift of speaking in tongues as imparted in Acts 2 was actually the ability to speak in a foreign language. Interestingly, the term used here in Corinthians to refer to speaking in tongues was a word commonly used in the culture to speak of "pagan ecstasy, going out of the body, connecting with the deity and, in a mystical way, beginning to speak the language of the gods," (John MacArthur, "The Truth About Tongues, Part 1"). The Corinthian church was one that was embroiled in it's pagan surroundings and they foolishly had allowed pagan beliefs and practices to filter into their church. Of the Charismatic movement and churches today, MacArthur says, "We have developed a sensual, feeling, experiential, erotic kind of approach to Christianity, only we call it the work of the Holy Spirit when, in fact it is the counterfeit of Satan."
Back to the passage, we see that Paul is teaching that the gift of tongues is secondary. Why? Speaking in tongues will not build up and edify the church, which is the sole purpose of the church! And certainly the Corinthians' use of fake, pagan tongues will be even more detrimental to the edification of the church. Instead, in verse 1, Paul urges the Corinthians to earnestly desire and pursue after love and the greater gifts that edify rather than the showy, dramatic, ego-building gifts.
MacArthur elaborates, "The obvious reason for the inferiority of tongues is that nobody could understand what was being said." Furthermore, in verse 2 (Gumbel's proof-verse), "For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit," the Greek literally says "But to a god". MacArthur explains, "What Paul is saying is, 'You people with your pagan ecstasies are not doing what all spiritual gifts were given to do, that is speak to men. Rather, your ecstasies are speaking to a god, nobody can even understand what you're saying, you are all wrapped up in speaking pagan mysteries!' Do you see what he's saying? Those aren't the mysteries...of God that Paul gave, those are the mysteries of paganism. He that speaks in a tongue speaks not unto men."
MacArthur continues by explaining that spiritual gifts are given for us to minister to men, not to God. God doesn't need us to minister to Him because He is complete! So, contrary to what Gumbel is teaching, this passage is condemning speaking in tongues as a private prayer language to God. These people may be communing and communicating with a god, but it is certainly not the God of the Bible! MacArthur points out that in every prayer in the Bible, not once do we see a suggestion that they were prayed in unintelligible gibberish. Actually, in Matthew 6:7, Jesus himself condemned prayer that resembled that of the pagans!
So why does Paul say in verse 5 "Now I want you all to speak in tongues"? MacArthur feels that Paul is exaggerating to make a point. We know from 1 Corinthians 12 that not all Christians will be granted the same spiritual gift. So Paul is saying in verse 5 that while it would be wonderful if all Christians could speak in (true) tongues, he knows that it's not going to happen.
As a final examination of this passage, read the following from MacArthur's sermon:
There's an interesting little footnote here that's just kind of snuck in there. Notice in verse 2 and in verse 4 where it says 'tongues,' that the King James translators put the word 'unknown' in there. But in verse 5 where it says 'tongues, the word isn't there. Do you know why? It seems that the translators put the word 'unknown' in with the singular and left it out with the plural. Some Bible scholars believe that's because when Paul was using the singular, he was referring to their ecstatic gibberish (which was all one kind, a tongue, a gibberish) but when he refers to the true gift, it's languages. Like in Acts, where every man heard him in his own language. So in verses 1-4 he's saying, "Your false gift is all wrong." But in verse 5 he's saying, "The right thing is all right when it's interpreted in its place."
I think that the above exegesis completely and correctly explains the true meaning of this passage, and illustrates how terribly dangerous Gumbel's interpreation of it is.
It is terribly erroneous to presume that an experience in calling down the Holy Spirit that manifests itself in tongues and shaking and laughter is necessary for conversion. Were that true, then I must count myself among the millions of Christians who dearly love our Savior but who have apparently missed the point of true conversion without this spirit experience. Instead, I am inclined to boldly assert that these experiences are not with God the Holy Spirit but are instead manifestations of evil spirits--demons. To invoke these spirits is to open wide the door for the blatant and direct influence of Satan in your life.
From this brief peek into the New Age roots of the Alpha Course, one must acknowledge that Gumbel has succeeded in twisting the Word of God in order to fit his own agenda. As a "Christian" leader he has failed miserably to filter what he has been exposed to through the never-changing lens of Scripture. He has succumbed to the New Age philosophy of experience over Truth and he has woven this into his curriculum in order to lure young Christians and nonbelievers far away from the Word of God and into the dangerous depths of demonic practices. He has strategically placed a few good "Christian" terms here and there, with a brief out-of-context use of Scripture now and again and has succeeded in deceiving countless unassuming, trusting believers.
The Alpha Course may be offered at your church even now. The sad reality is that even our church leaders fail to test every program against the light of Scripture. And so it has become increasingly easy for Satan to slip into God's house unannounced and unnoticed. We trust our church leaders, but the time has come when we can no longer place our blind faith in these men. Test everything against Scripture. Even the weekly sermon--does it measure up to God's Word? Christian, God never intended for us to put all of our faith into a mere man. He provided His Word to us so that we could all study it for ourselves and see and understand it's clear meaning! Do you realize what a phenomenal gift that is? That God would trust all of us with His Word--whether we are formally educated in theology or not--is amazing! Don't take that gift lightly. Read God's Word. Study it. Thrive on it. Treasure it. And when you are down on your knees, pray for discernment in all things--especially in matters of the church. Do not allow Satan to deceive you in your faith.
In Parts 2 and 3, I hope to examine the odd acceptance of Alpha by Roman Catholics as well as Alpha's stress on unity and Gumbel's connection with Tony Blair, followed by a brief examination of the difference between Nicky Gumbel's gospel and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 1 Timothy 4:1
Below are some videos capturing the effects of the Toronto Blessing. I imagine that many of the Alpha Holy Spirit weekends culminate in the same behavior. I want to warn you that these videos may be disturbing. At the risk of sounding extreme, I feel as though evil almost eminates from them. At the same time, I feel it is necessary to share this in order for the reader to achieve a full comprehension of the perils about which I just wrote.