Recent months have seen an increase in publicity for the international phenomenon known as the Alpha Course. That is why it came as no surprise when Alpha recently was featured on Moody Radio's In the Market with Janet Parshall.
On Monday, 19 November, Parshall interviewed Gerard Long, the executive director of Alpha USA. The conservative Parshall had only praises for the Alpha Course, stating that its results have been "absolutely amazing" and essentially offering her endorsement as she declared that she is "very comfortable with the Alpha Course."
At one point, Parshall questioned Long about the criticisms that have been leveled at Alpha, namely that the movement may be viewed as an "ecumenical compromise." In response, Long appealed to the vast numbers that have been tallied by the organization. Citing the fact that Alpha is now in 169 countries with nearly 19 million people having attended over the years, Long conjectured that perhaps "hundreds, maybe millions" have come to Christ through the Alpha Course.
While it certainly is likely that some have been brought to repentance and faith in Christ through Alpha, and those salvations are to be celebrated, the number of true conversions cannot be ascertained. Mere attendance numbers, then, cannot be appealed to as proof of spiritual, or eternal, success. After all, the false religions of Islam and Mormonism also draw great numbers of attendees to their gatherings. The road of deception is a wide one and the way of salvation is narrow (Matt. 7:13).
In addressing the allegations of Alpha's "ecumenical compromise," Long maintained that the teachings of the Alpha Course are "based absolutely on Scripture" and "the clear message of Jesus Christ," a message, he says, that all agree on across denominations. Parshall probed, questioning Long about Alpha's approach when the inevitable "theological land mines" appear. To this Long replied that Alpha keeps "to the core of the gospel, where there's unity." The two then quipped about where the Methodists and the Baptists may be standing in Heaven, a joke which unfortunately appeared to belittle the legitimate concerns that have been raised regarding Alpha's ecumenism.
In the 26 September article, The Ecumenical Compromise of the Alpha Course, CRN noted the following:
CRN has been informed by a leader within Alpha for Catholics that, “It is not necessary to change the Alpha course for Catholics.” Unfortunately, this is greater cause for concern because examination of some of the core doctrines of the RCC demonstrates that it actually teaches much that is contrary to biblical Christianity. How then can the two be compatible? In the quote above, Nicky Gumbel noted that, “In Alpha, we stick to the foundational pieces of the Christian faith we all agree upon: Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, the Bible, prayer. What unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Gumbel has made a grievous and erroneous statement here, for what divides the Roman Catholic Church and orthodox Christianity is the very Gospel itself.
(Source)While discussing the idea of ecumenism, Long and Parshall never addressed the existence of Alpha for Catholics, a reality which seems to imply that Alpha recognizes Roman Catholicism as a genuine arm of Christianity. Unfortunately, as is stated above, Roman Catholicism and orthodox Christianity are divided by the true Gospel of Christ. It is impossible, then, to achieve true unity between the two groups based upon the "core of the gospel" unless that gospel is one that has been compromised.
CRN has demonstrated that at the Council of Trent, held from 1545-1563, the Roman Catholic Church effectively condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. If the true Gospel of Christ is being taught at each Alpha Course (the same Gospel that was anathematized at Trent), then it seems that the content ought to be an offense to the Roman Catholic Church. Yet instead, Alpha is quite popular among Roman Catholics and, as quoted above, it has been confirmed by a leader within Alpha for Catholics that the same material is presented across all Alpha Courses. This is the ecumenical compromise against which some have spoken. It is disappointing that such valid concerns were glossed over by Parshall and her guest.
Also left unaddressed were the concerns of some surrounding charismatic teaching and behavior during Alpha's Holy Spirit weekend. Of course, it is quite possible that Parshall is unaware of these claims. Perhaps Parshall also is uninformed about the fact that Alpha leader Nicky Gumbel once led his Holy Trinity Brompton Church in one of London's largest outbreaks of the aberrant Toronto Blessing. Time Magazine covered this phenomenon of "holy laughter" in 1994:
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 1,500. Oblivious to the hot, airless sanctuary, the youthful throng buzzes with an anticipation more common at a rock concert or rugby match. 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... (Source)Such realities ought to raise enough concerns that one would not offer praise and endorsement of the Alpha Course without a concurrent warning.
Those interested in or involved with the Alpha Course may find it helpful to investigate some of the concerns that have been voiced by various ministries. It is hoped that Moody Radio and Ms. Parshall will conduct such research as well if they have not done so already. Above all, everything must be tested against Scripture (1 John 4:1), and Christians must strive never to compromise the truth that was delivered by Christ Himself (Gal. 1:11–12), for a compromised gospel cannot save.
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