The Alpha Course

The Alpha Course

Carol Brooks



ON THIS PAGE

Introduction
Finding Jesus in London
Popularity in the US
What is the Alpha Course?
Why Test Alpha?

Roots: The Anglican Church, The Toronto “Blessing” and John Wimber and The Vineyard:
And Branches: Brownsville Assembly of God:

Church Growth… or Peter Didn’t Need Ten Weeks.

Evangelism.. De-Emphasizing The Nature of God, Sin, The Cross and Conversion
Emphasizing The Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit Weekends
Cultic Tendencies
Ministry of The Holy Spirit
The Fullness of the Spirit

Adaptability

Catholic Alpha
Catholic Follow-Up
Alpha Courses for Catholics Around the World

Alpha and Ecumenism
Nicky Gumbel and the Pope, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

Todd Hunter…
From The Vineyard To The Emerging Church… via Alpha USA
The Rogues Gallery of Deviant Christians




Introduction: Until recently I was under the impression that Alpha was yet another passing fad that would soon (if it had not already) make way for the next new trend. However a December 21st 2008 article in the online edition of Time Magazine made it clear that I could not have been more wrong. Apparently Alpha is still alive and kicking, having already outlived most of the ‘new’ things invading the professing Church over the last several decades. The Time magazine article said, in part, that large numbers of people were... [TOP OF PAGE]


“Finding Jesus in London”
Once considered a stalwart of rural England, the Anglican church has found new life in the largest of Britain's supposedly godless cities.

“… an unexpected spiritual awakening among London's high society has gone unnoticed in recent years. Long considered an aggressively secular city, London has quietly become one of Britain's most Christian areas, going from the least observant region in Britain in 1979 to the second most observant today… with a “growing number of young, highly educated and moneyed Londoners … turning to the church”.

The article went on to say that the

“…focal point for many of these new believers is Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), an evangelical Anglican church in plush Kensington” whose “4000-strong congregation has almost tripled in the past 15 years, and its average age is 27 years” and “raised over $7 million from donations last year alone (An average London parish, by contrast, can expect to raise around $150,000, according to data provided by the Anglican church)”. [HTB's Sunday services include singing, dancing, and speaking in tongues]”.

And why is this church so popular that it “recently began encouraging hundreds of its congregation to attend dying churches around London”?

“Underpinning this success is Holy Trinity Brompton's Alpha course, a 10-week introduction to Christianity aimed at converting young people. Since the course was first run out of HTB's basement in 1990, it has gone global and reached more than 11 million people across various denominations. But it is at home where its appeal is most apparent. Every Wednesday, crowds of teenagers and twenty somethings line up hundreds deep at Holy Trinity Brompton for a chance to share a free meal, listen to a sermon, sing devotional songs and decide if they want to let Jesus into their heart. At a busy Alpha course session in November, attended by some 900 people, long-necked beauties in Ralph Lauren swanned among blond, ruddy chaps in blue velvet blazers. Nicky Gumbel, 53, the former Etonian and one-time barrister who founded the course to better reach young people, wore green socks, loafers and an open collar shirt. Gumbel, HTB's vicar since 2005, started proceedings by suggesting that participants choose adjectives starting with the same letter as their name. He introduced himself as "Nautical Nicky". [1]

Alpha’s first presenter was a man called Charles Marnham, who set up an informal home group to present answers to basic gospel questions, but today 'the face' of Alpha is the assistant curate Nicky Gumbel (who transformed the course into what we see today), and to a lesser extent his boss, the vicar of HTB Sandy Millar.

The Alpha course has earned quite a few media accolades including

"A novel approach to Christian education that has been catching on nationwide." The New York Times

"The miracle formula church leaders are hoping will reverse this religious decline...many claim Alpha has changed their lives and appear genuinely happier for the experience." Time Magazine

"Alpha...uses modern marketing methods to promote and explain Christian teachings around the world." Newsweek

"Alpha makes Christianity relevant to modern life." Julia Llewellyn Smith, The Express

"It is clear that Alpha is already changing British church life." The Economist

"The world's most popular course in Christianity." The Independent on Sunday, London

"...The only unqualified success there has been in recent years to arrest the seemingly inexorable decline in attendance - the Alpha course." Evening Standard, London. [TOP OF PAGE]


Popularity in the US
It didn’t take very long for the Alpha Course to wend it’s way across the Atlantic, apparently arriving on our shores about 1996, spreading quite rapidly, as all virus’ do. In a 4th Feb, 2007 interview, Todd Hunter, then president of Alpha USA, remarked that he had witnessed 100’s of young people coming to the course at his friend Nancy Hanna’s church in mid-town Manhattan, just as they did flocked to Holy Trinity Brompton in London. When asked “How many churches currently use the Alpha Course and how many people are involved in putting the course on each week?” Hunter replied [All Emphasis Added]

We do not have the best of records, but we currently show that there are just over 8,200 churches using The Alpha Course. In addition there are 438 Youth Alpha courses being run, 220 on college campuses and scores more in prisons, workplaces and military settings such as Iraq and Afghanistan. That rate of activity would mean that there are tens of thousands of volunteers working to put on Alpha Courses at any given time. [2] [TOP OF PAGE]


So What is the Alpha Course?
A brochure used to advertise Alpha in England tells us that Alpha stands for

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Christian faith.
Learning and laughter. It is possible to learn about the Christian faith and have fun at the same time.
Pasta and pudding. Eating a meal together gives people an opportunity to get to know each other.
Helping one another. The small groups give you a chance to discuss issues raised in the talks.
Ask anything. Alpha is a place where no question is regarded as too simple or too hostile.
The web site of Alpha International describes the course as an

“…opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith in a relaxed setting over ten thought-provoking weekly sessions, with a day or weekend away.. based around small groups of about 12 people, hosted by one or two leaders whose role is to facilitate and encourage discussion… Courses vary in size, from one small group meeting in a home, to hundreds of people in a larger venue… Each session begins with a meal or refreshments - a chance to get to know others in the small group. There is then a short talk, which looks at a different aspect of the Christian faith each week. This is followed by a time of discussion in the small groups, where everyone is welcome to contribute their opinion, ask questions and discuss with the rest of the group. The emphasis is upon exploration and discovery in a relaxed and informal environment. [3]

Others add that

“By using videos rather than a real-life presentations, group members feel free to openly disagree with Gumbel’s statements. Group discussion quickly becomes real, honest and free-flowing”. [4]

And what could possibly be wrong with that? Especially since it seems to be endorsed by any number of church leaders. The web site of Alpha USA carries an endorsement of the course by Rick Warren who said

"Over 30 years ago in London, England, God began a movement that has now spread all around the world. It’s called the Alpha course, begun by my dear friends Nicky Gumbel, Ken Costa and other friends. We’ve seen this course expand to be used to reach literally millions of people to Christ.

If you have never heard of Alpha, I want to challenge you to check it out. It is one of the most effective evangelism tools for the 21st century. Many of you have heard of the 40 Days of Purpose campaign that is also being used by God mightily around the world. 40 Days of Purpose and Alpha fit together like hand in glove. It really doesn’t matter which one you do first. If you have done 40 Days of Purpose, you need to do Alpha: if you have done Alpha, you need to do 40 Days of Purpose, because these two are similar programs inspired by the Holy Spirit... So, as the author of The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life, I, Rick Warren, want to tell you that Alpha has my 100% endorsement and I would encourage you to use it in small groups in your Church and everywhere that you can.” [5]

Okay! So maybe a commendation by Warren does not exactly provide sufficient reason to run out and sign up for the course.. In fact, considering Warren’s extremely poor track record, anything and anyone he endorses should be viewed with extreme caution. However he was not alone. Alpha News Online, No. 3, March-July 2000 said that

Billy Graham has invited Alpha leader Nicky Gumbel to speak at a major conference he is organising in Amsterdam, Netherlands, this July. Mr Gumbel has been asked to speak at a workshop on the Alpha course at the conference, to be attended by 10,000 evangelists from around the world. Mr. Graham wrote, “Your experience and expertise as a leader will be a great asset to the conference, and participants will gain invaluable knowledge and insight from the content of the workshop.”

Unfortunately ‘America’s pastor’ Billy Graham also has put a stamp of approval on the false gospel preached by the Roman Catholic church, but details of that is best left to a separate article..

Evangelist Luis Palau in writing to thousands of Christian leaders all over the country said

“I thank God for the way Alpha is turning the focus of churches on evangelistic outreach” [TOP OF PAGE]


Why Test Alpha?
Because we have to test everything.. It is the Christian's duty to test the teaching of others even when they teach in the name of Christ. Alpha’s reputation and many endorsements do not make it untouchable. Much to the contrary, Alpha’s popularity renders scrutiny imperative. If it is weighed in the balance and found wanting, it condemns many many people with it.

Although Alpha’s materials and presentation have often been given top marks, it is not the standard by which to judge. Alpha’s claim to be a ‘practical introduction to the Christian faith’, speaking to men or women who are ignorant of the faith, makes it vital that the Gospel message is both clear and scriptural…. that what unbelievers are being introduced to is, in fact, the Christian faith.

Evangelism has at it’s core a message with eternal consequences, therefore Christian teaching can not be measured by a trendy presentation, a celebrity speaker or the accolades of others, but by the truth of scripture. And there is no way to know whether or not any teaching is in accord with scripture unless it is examined carefully alongside God’s Word. Then should it be found to be a false gospel, not in accordance with scripture, the Christian is not only instructed to reject it absolutely, but to rebuke it and have no fellowship or company with those teaching it..

Mark Them And Avoid Them--"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." (Romans 16:17)

Rebuke Them--"...rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;" (Titus 1:13)

Reject Them--"A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject;" (Titus 3:10)

Reprove Them--"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." (Ephesians 5:11)

Turn Away From Them--"Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." (2 Timothy 3:5)

receive them not--"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." (2 John 1:10-11) [For a more complete list see Judge Not?]

However as Tricia Tillin of Banner ministres noted in her article on Alpha..

One difficulty in pinning down the problems with the Alpha Course is that each church running the course will use the materials in a different way. Thus it is feasible, in theory at least, that a church might avoid all controversy and simply use the course to preach the gospel to unbelievers. This does leave unanswered the question - why does any church need to buy a course to be able to preach the gospel? [6]

So what are some of the reasons the Alpha Course has stirred so much opposition? objections to this popular course include it’s origins.. [TOP OF PAGE]


Roots:

The Anglican Church: Just for starters, Holy Trinity, Brompton is an Anglican Church, an 80 million-member loose-knit worldwide Christian grouping (which includes the U.S. Episcopal Church), as a whole has tolerated error for a very long time.. While many, if not most, Anglicans are traditionalists who believe scripture condemns gay relationships, in 2003, the Church of England announced the appointment of Jeffrey John, a priest living in a celibate domestic partnership with another man, as the Suffragan Bishop of Reading. As of 2004, other Anglican provinces permitted the ordination of non-celibate gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions. In the Anglican Church of Canada, six parishes in the Diocese of New Westminster bless same-sex unions, and Dean Peter Elliott of that diocese is a gay man in a committed relationship. In 2003, the Episcopal Church in the USA consecrated Gene Robinson, a gay man, as the Bishop of New Hampshire.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s umpteenth visit to Lambeth Palace in May 2008 said “…A warm and searching discussion took place, and the meeting ended with a time of shared silence. It was a privilege to have this opportunity of engaging with a great spiritual teacher." [7]

The problem is that not only does the Dalai Lama believe in and teach on the coming of the Maitreya, he has also has initiated thousands of people into the Kalachakra initiation, part of which is the Shambhala myth which prophecies and promotes, a “holy war” (Shambhala war) by Buddhists against non-Buddhists, in which “supremely ferocious warriors will throw down the barbarian hordes” and “eliminate” them. See The Dalai Lama]

And the Archbishop's Diwali message to Hindu communities said that in the “spirit of looking to the light” he hoped “we may appreciate and enjoy each other's festivals as a common sign to the world of our commitment to mutual goodwill and faith in each other.”.

While one can not call to account the founders of Alpha for what the Archbishop of Canterbury does and does not do, one has to wonder why so called Spirit filled men, following the instructions of scripture, do not openly rebuke their church’s many deviations from Biblical Christianity.

But the Anglican church may be the least of a whole host of problems….

The Toronto “Blessing” named after the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church in Toronto, claims to be a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, comparable with the day of Pentecost, which happens when a leader, who has already received the blessing himself, then passes it on to others, usually in a meeting of a church or in a larger gathering of believers from various churches. The basic idea being that the anointing of the Holy Spirit is transferable and, through touch, can be imparted from one person to another. These so called ‘impartations’ are often characterized by uncontrollable laughter [referred to "holy laughter], "slaying of the spirit" [falling backwards toward the ground], people making animal noises and acting like animals, and holy drunkenness (staggering about as though drunk). [See Section on Counterfeit Revivals]

The forces behind the Toronto ‘blessing’, unsatisfied with merely bringing down of hundreds of pastors, preachers and teachers, then reared it’s ugly head in the form of Todd Bentley’s Circus Side Show From Hell. However while Bentleys origins in, and connections to TB were obvious (He often lost control of himself on stage, laughing hysterically, falling on all fours), Alpha’s are slightly more subtle, but they exist nonetheless.

Nicky Gumbel, curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton ‘received the blessing’ from Eleanor Mumford, wife of Pastor John Mumford of the Southwest London Vineyard, following her return from Toronto in May 1994.

Upon her arrival back in England, she testified of her experiences in Toronto and the Laughing Revival broke out in the Vineyard congregation, both in the general services and in various house meetings. One of these which was attended by Nicky Gumbel. The moment Eleanor Mumford “invited the Holy Spirit to come” one person was thrown across the room and lay on the floor howling and laughing, “making the most incredible noise.” Another man lay on the floor “prophesying.” Some appeared to be drunken. Gumbel testified that he had an experience “like massive electricity going through my body.”

Nicky Gumbel spends a substantial amount of time relating to Alpha participants in video 3 talk 9, exactly how this occurred:

"Ellie Mumford told us a little bit of what she had seen in Toronto... .it was obvious that Ellie was just dying to pray for all of us.. then she said 'Now we'll invite the Holy Spirit to come.' and the moment she said that one of the people there was thrown, literally, across the room and was lying on the floor, just howling and laughing....making the most incredible noise....I experienced the power of the Spirit in a way I hadn't experienced for years, like massive electricity going through my body... One of the guys was prophesying. He was just lying there prophesying. . ."

Later Sandy Millar, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, invited Eleanor Mumford to speak at both the morning and evening Sunday services on May 29 and the rest, as they say, is history. Holy Trinity Brompton had become the British headquarters for the so called Toronto Blessing, sealed by Millar’s visit to Toronto a few days later.


Staying True To The Roots
Proving that HTB remains very firmly attached to it’s roots, Time Magazine’s Aug. 15, 1994 Issue reported that in London's fashionable Knightsbridge neighborhood people are now... “Laughing for the Lord”

“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 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," from the city that has popularized it. Though similar to the emotional outbursts found in some U.S. Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, the paroxysms of laughter are new, particularly for straitlaced Anglicans. And they are catching on. After first appearing at Holy Trinity only last May, laughing revivals have been reported in Anglican parishes from Manchester to York to Brighton…

And goes on to say that

“lines outside Holy Trinity now start forming an hour and a half before services”. [8]

In fact according to Nick Gumbel..

"I believe it is no coincidence that the present movement of the Holy Spirit [TB] has come at the same time as the explosion of the Alpha Courses. I think the two go together." [Nicky Gumbel, 'The Spirit and Evangelism', Renewal, May 1995, p15].

I strongly suggest you take the time to go through the section Doctrines Directly Derived From The Occult, with particular attention to Counterfeit Revivals


John Wimber and The Vineyard:
Additionally Nicky Gumbel was very influenced by John Wimber, resulting in numerous references to Wimber in Alpha material. In a video series, Gumbel traces his call to evangelism to a 1982 incident in which he received prayer from Wimber. As Wimber laid hands on him, “He experienced such supernatural power that he had to call out for it to stop.” Wimber also gave a “word of knowledge” that Gumbel had a gift of “telling others.”

The following is just an extremely condensed summary of John Wimber (1934-1997) who converted to Christianity through the Quakers in 1963. Eventually he joined the faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary and founded the Department of Church Growth. He then went on to found

“…the Vineyard Association, comprised today of some 600 churches worldwide. In the mid-1970s, Wimber became affiliated with Fuller Theological Seminary and was strongly influenced by Fuller professor C. Peter Wagner, a pragmatic church growth expert. In analyzing church planting models, Wagner seems to be as impressed by “success” as with doctrinal purity. If a methodology “works” it has value, regardless of whether or not it is scriptural. Wimber applied this type of pragmatism to the practical side of Christian life and ministry. He focused more on experience and feeling than on doctrine. He warned against “worshipping the book” and mocked those who judge everything strictly by the Bible, saying they have “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Book” (Wimber, as cited in Counterfeit Revival, p. 109). On another occasion Wimber warned against being “too rigid” and “too heavily oriented to the written Word”. [9] [For details please see Wimber and the Vineyard]

Does anyone remember that little verse in the Bible in [Matthew 7:18] that tells us that a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit? It didn’t... [TOP OF PAGE]


And Branches
Brownsville Assembly of God: In January 1995, Steve Hill, a Pentecostal evangelist stopped over in London on his way back from a missionary trip. Hearing of the happenings at Holy Trinity Brompton, Hill sought out Sandy Millar and requested that he (Sandy) lay hands on him and was knocked down. [See Slain In The Spirit]

Six months later on June 18, 1995, the Laughing or Drunken Revival broke out as Steve Hill was preaching in the Brownsville Assembly of God near Pensacola, Florida, at which John Kilpatrick, pastor of the Brownsville church, fell to the floor and lay there for almost four hours. “When I hit that floor, it felt like I weighed 10,000 pounds. I knew something supernatural was happening” (Kilpatrick, Charisma, June 1996). He has been so “drunk” that he could not drive himself home.

For several weeks before June 18, many members from the Brownsville Assembly of God, including wife of Brownsville Assembly pastor, John Kilpatrick, had traveled to the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church to participate in the Laughing Revival.

A couple of the most positive things said about Alpha is that it has often been touted as key to evangelism (more about that later) and … [TOP OF PAGE]


Church Growth… (or Peter Didn’t Need Ten Weeks).
Alpha has been seen as the key to rapid church growth, at least according to the web site of the Anglican Renewal Ministries of Canada [http://www.armcanada.org/keys.html] or even simply an effective way to revive dying churches. For example, a November 2001 article in Christianity Today International tells of Peoria Heights Congregational, a 94-year-old United Church of Christ congregation, in central Illinois, that was shrinking, with only four new adults congregants in 1996, and older members dying off rapidly.

The situation did a turn around when church leader Phillip Meagher started using the Alpha Course, bringing “the dramatic results” Meagher sought. “His church will likely add 40 new members a year starting next year? [10]

So did we miss something here?

On the day of Pentecost Peter preached a sermon that was boring by anyone’s standards, with no illustrations, and no catchy title, and certainly no amusing anecdotes. In a nutshell Peter's short sermon

explains the scriptural and prophetic significance of the Pentecost miracle.

proclaims the identity, death, and resurrection of Jesus,

calls for repentance, a major condition for receiving God's Spirit.

He did little but tell them the "good news" that Messiah not only died to set us free from sin, but that he rose that we might too. And he wasn’t too nice about it either .. soundly laying blame for the torture and death of the son of God on his hearers. Accusing people usually antagonizes them, however the response from the crowd suggested helplessness and horror. Luke tells us that "when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, 'Brothers, what should we do?' (Acts 2:37)

Peter's response was again short and to the point. He told them they had to .. [Emphasis Added]

"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…” (V. 38) and exhorted them to "Be saved from this perverse generation!" (V.40)

The result? Three thousand souls were baptized, continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And all this less than ONE DAY.

[Also See Seeker Friendly, Church Growth Failures in The Bible]

So apparently Peter’s methods were far more effective than the “dramatic results” of 40 new members in a year. In the words of Larry Witham

"All these methodologies.. from the Purpose Driven Church to the Alpha Course.. more or less fall into what has been called the modern church growth movement. While the movement is supposed to be about saving souls it is also about filling pews and reviving churches. By it's very emphasis on growth, however, the world is taken not so much as a mystery as a marketplace, a place of calculated advertising and selling of one belief system or another. [11]

Which brings us to the second positive claim made about Alpha... that it is wonderful and systematic introduction to the Christian faith or the last word in... [TOP OF PAGE]


Evangelism
There are those that find not only the underlying concept of Alpha very interesting and possibly very useful. Tim Chapman, a critic of the course says this…

It is clear that there are many things about Alpha which are praiseworthy. It is remarkably well produced and the quality of the resources are exceptional. It is easily transferable and so reaches people far beyond Brompton. The quality and availability of the resources provide church leaders with a ready made evangelistic course so that it does not require a great deal of work to get the course going. That Alpha has encouraged so many churches and so many individuals to start doing evangelism must be a cause of much rejoicing.

Another aspect of the whole of the Alpha course is the intense zeal with which people long for others to become Christians. There can be no doubting the godly commitment of those organising the Alpha initiative, to reach those who have never known Christ.

Perhaps the most significant contribution that Alpha has made is the emphasis it places on the value of relationships. The practice of guests returning to the same group each week, sharing a friendly meal together on neutral ground ensures that people are put at ease and better able to hear a talk and ask questions at the end. This is where Alpha is at its strongest. "Learning about the Christian faith and having a lot of fun together" says Gumbel is what it is about. "It’s all friendship based. There is no knocking on doors. It is friends bringing friends," he says. A number of other evangelistic courses have adopted the emphasis [12]

While it may be true that Alpha is responsible for many being converted and coming to ‘faith’ the question has to be asked.. What are people coming to faith in? Does Alpha accurately present the person and message of Jesus? Remember that claiming Jesus as Lord is not enough… He Himself said: "Not everyone who says to me `Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of Heaven".


The Love of God
The most tragic theological error of our day is the belief that love is the chief attribute of God. True to the current style, Alpha says little about His righteousness, wrath and coming judgment, emphasizing instead the love of God. While it is perfectly true that God is love, His love has been demonstrated in the price He paid to save sinners… that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

"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." (John 3:16)

But divorced from the context of God's holiness and call to perfection, the extent or meaning of that love is rendered far, far less meaningful.

Sin:
Matt 9:12 tells us that it is ‘not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick’, however if the sick do not know the extent of their illness, or even if they are ill at all, they cannot take any steps towards a cure. Unless a person understands and appreciates their true condition before God, they can not recognize their need for a saviour. People have to be told what they are saved from before they can be saved. Actually we are not saved from a what (sin), but from a who.

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him. Romans 5:9. [Emphasis Added]

The Greek word rendered “sin” is hamartia, which literally meant to miss the mark or target and, in this case the standard is God Himself, which leaves all of us desperately short of the mark. We are not slightly displeasing to Him, with the occasional foible; rather by nature 'we are objects of wrath' (Eph. 2:3) because we have offended against God and broken His holy law and therefore offended God himself. In not describing the holiness of God to us, Alpha not only leaves us ignorant of our predicament, but leaves little place in our thinking for God's wrath.

As the Bible tells us..

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23).
If we deny that we have sinned, or that we do sin, we are certainly self-deceived (cf. 1 John 1:8,10).
The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Please pay careful attention to the last point.. the penalty for sin is death. Gumbel’s treatment of sin’s consequences is so brief and cryptic that most listeners probably do not hear it, never mind grasp what is at stake. If God is a just God He cannot simply forgive but must punish the wicked, which is the whole point of the Bible. We can do nothing to get ourselves out of this mess, which is exactly what makes the gospel “good news”. However by glossing over the 'bad news' about ourselves, Alpha is unable to give us the 'good news'.

The only way that God can forgive sinful men is if God who made the law and God who demands satisfaction comes down Himself and pays the penalty. Which, in a nutshell, sums the entire reason for ...

The Cross:
The session ‘Why Did Jesus Die?’ tells us that ‘the cross lies at the heart of the Christian faith’. While the scripture references that are provided could lead someone to investigate further and come to correct conclusions, in the Course itself the death of Jesus is presented as being an act of love unconnected with the reality of God's anger.

The fact that Christ died, not simply in our place, but paid the penalty for our sin by taking upon himself the wrath of God is skimmed over, and, in fact, after talk two the cross is barely mentioned in subsequent sessions, which deal essentially with what may be described as Christian living.

Conversion:
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter's hearers were '...cut to the heart...'(Acts 2:37). The Philippian jailer asked urgently 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' (Acts 16:30). They understood that they were sinners. They realized that they needed mercy. It was clear to them as it was to the believers in Thessalonica that the gospel was '...in truth, the word of God...' (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

“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 realized the depth of their sinfulness or repented of their sin. People feel cleansed without having consciously put their faith in Christ. …Alpha may regard this as conversion but it is not what we find in the Bible”. [13] Emphasis Added

Therefore if the Cross is not, in reality, central to Alpha. If Jesus Christ’s work of atonement has been usurped, what has taken it’s place? And, returning to our original question, to what are people being converted?

Alpha devotes far more time and space to the Holy Spirit than to the Lord Jesus. [TOP OF PAGE]


Emphasis On The Holy Spirit

“…As the course progresses, some of the talks tend to wander off into lengthy accounts of HTB's experiences of the Toronto Blessing and associated ministries, novel exegeses of various Biblical passages common amongst pro-Toronto preachers, calls for unity despite truth and an over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit, all of which are less than helpful, to say the least, to potential Christians. [14]

As said by Dusty Peterson in The New Age of Alpha …

“Some readers may feel led to argue that participants frequently have Spirit-given experiences during the Course. While it is true that various supernatural manifestations are seen, many of which are recorded in official publications from Alpha’s home church –These include: uncontrollable shaking / ******* uncontrollable laughter painful burning sensations white ‘lights’ in the head a voice in the head, and electric shocks. Many Alpha supporters believe these experiences to be proof of baptism in the Holy Spirit – and therefore proof of salvation”.

However there is a serious problem with this assumption simply because these manifestations often happen to participants before they ever make any commitment to God causing many participants to actually assume that their experience constituted conversion: Since the Spirit of God is only ever given to believers (Acts 5:32), the following testimonies cannot be referring to the Holy Spirit.

“I had to grab hold of both doors to stay upright … I felt the Spirit of God and it was incredible. But … I still wasn’t a Christian” [Mark Elsdon-Dew, Ed., The God Who Changes Lives, Vol. 2 (2001), p139. (An HTB book of Alpha testimonies.]

“I had an amazingly powerful encounter with the Spirit, but … went away without giving my life to Jesus” [Alpha News, Mar – Jun 1998, p4]

“I felt an incredible tingling in the back of my neck ... Suddenly I had had this instant conversion” [UK Focus, (an HTB supplement to Focus), Mar 1999, p2.]

“It’s not about what you think … It’s about feelings really … All the … shaking on that Saturday … It just came over me” [Richardson, ‘Alpha – the Omega in Evangelism?’, Prophecy Today, Vol. 13, No. 5, p7] [15]

In his book, Pride and Perjury, Jonathan Aitken describes how after overcoming initial reservations, he took take the course at Holy Trinity itself. "Apparently it was being suggested that we should set off in groups for two nights at a seaside hotel," he writes, "where someone would call down the Holy Spirit into our hearts. In spite of thinking it was “codswallop", Aitken found himself drawn into the friendly, upper-middle-class atmosphere, and eventually found himself standing " with hands outstretched at waist height, palms upwards, praying that the Holy Spirit would come". When someone began praying with him, he says "my palms suddenly began to tingle with a strange physical sensation, which strengthened until my hands and wrists became hot and uncomfortable & then I began to cry."

What he says next is particularly interesting [Emphasis added]

Despite all the impact that this manifestation has on me, I cannot pretend that my life changed overnight. I did not think I had been ‘saved’, or that I had seen some blinding light on the road to Damascus. Indeed, in immediate retrospect I felt that my encounter with the force that had shaken me to the core in the Chatsworth hotel was as much as unnerving experience as an uplifting one. [Page 273]

The question is what, if anything, diffrentiates between "legitimate" and "genuine" visitations of the Holy Spirit, and "psychological" or even "demonic" manifestations? Is the Christian commitment of a preacher in sufficient to understand the ecstatic phenomena he calls forth as being from God? Is it possible the evidence is being misinterpreted in line with the presuppositions, beliefs, hopes, and desires of the participants? [See The Emperor Has No Clothes]

As in the above description, most of these experiences take place the so-called ‘Holy Spirit Weekend’… a thinly-disguised opportunity for initiation into the Toronto Blessing experience. The Gospel is not central to the course, but these weekends are.. [TOP OF PAGE]


Holy Spirit Weekends
This Holy Spirit day or weekend, which is a vital part of the course serves the function of bringing people into a close, emotionally-charged atmosphere where they are more receptive and suggestible, and allows the leaders, if they are so disposed, to present the Holy Spirit in an experimental fashion to a captive audience.

Stephen Hunt is a British professor of sociology at the University of the West of England who’s primary research interests include the Charismatic movement. His book The Alpha Enterprise was published in 2004, During the course of his research, Hunt attended several ‘Holy Spirit days’ or weekends. Chapter 14 of The Alpha Enterprise opens with the words..

“The Holy Spirit weekend is in many respects the centerpiece of the Alpha programme. It has two principal functions: firstly, to bring a greater integration to the Alpha Group which is attempted through a round of pre-organized activities; secondly, to provide a series of teachings on the Holy Spirit which emphasize the charismatic core of the Alpha course. Yet these two days are not limited to the instruction of doctrine since the Holy Spirit is meant to be ‘experienced’ in a profound way. The weekend is, therefore, deliberately planned, at least ideally, to be held at a particular stage of the course and to coincide with teachings on the Holy Spirit and, as one clergy interviewee suggested to me, ‘it brings the course alive”.

By the time the guests are invited on the Holy Spirit weekend they would have had a basic introductory talk on Christianity, teachings on Christ and the atonement, the significance of the Bible and how to read it, how to pray, and how God guides and communicates with the believer. The teachings on the Holy Spirit come next in the form of three talks on overlapping themes that are the real theological substance for the weekend”.

In speaking about a ‘Holy Spirit away day’ by a group the author accompanied in 2002 as an “outsider”, he said

“the day was built up by course leaders from the very beginning of the programme and was awaited with some anticipation by all those involved”.

The explanation given by the course leader prior to the Holy Spirit day was that

“This is kind of what it is all leading up to”

The first of four Alpha videos on the Holy Spirit was a 15-minute introductory video by Gumbel which was followed by the second entitled “Who is the Holy Spirit?”. [Pg. 236]. At this point the author notes that while there was not too much to object to on doctrinal grounds, the presentation

“did seem rather incongruous with the rest of the course, an over emphasis on one person of the Trinity. The key question for me was why was an entire day set apart to discuss he Holy Spirit?”

The video began with a timely reminder of how the Holy Spirit has been neglected by the church in the past, It concluded with the suggestive statement by Gumbel that

“We live in the age of the Spirit. God has promised to give his Spirit to every Christian”.

Following an account of Pentecost, after which the …

“..teaching on the Holy Spirit took a distinct twist.. one to which at least some Christians might object. The personality on the Holy Spirit was given particular stress, so were teaching alluding to His constant activity and irresistible ‘power’. As the Alpha manual accompanying the video put it, “He wants to take control”. In the manual accompanying the text there is a cartoon of a man with his arms outstretched, trying to resist an invisible force without apparent success. [Alpha manual Pg. 30]

At the end of the talk on the third video “the topic of the charismata was explored.. the possibility of speaking in tongues, prophecy and so on which are assumed are part of the normal Christian experience. [5] “At this point as with most of the previous talk on the Holy Spirit, there is a certain amount of suggestibility woven in particularly the notion that the Holy Spirit is hard to resist”

One interesting aspect of the presentation was the short element supporting ecumenism. Within the context of the Holy Spirit Gumbel spoke about unity in the Spirit and that it filled all Christians, whether protestants or Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, or Pentecostals.” [Pg. 238]

All of this was then followed some time later by the “filling” when the Holy Spirit was called on [Pg. 243] and although this particular occasion turned out to be “a bit of an anti-climax”, since “No one was on the floor lying ‘resting in the spirit’ as often happens in ‘ministry time’. [TOP OF PAGE]


Cultic Tendencies
Starting on age 245 the author discusses whether or not Alpha is a cult, and while he believes the case is often overstated, there are “cult-like tendencies”… inasmuch as

Individuals are taken away from their environment into an unfamiliar situation

Indoctrination through the charismatic explication of the Holy Spirit. (which mich include heightened suggestibility of what the Holy Spirit can do).

Constant references to past visitations and powerful acts of the Holy Spiritm such ashealing and ‘falling in the spirit.

The singing of selective choruses referring to God’s love and power, accompanied by singing in tongues enhancing a suggestibility that the supernatural is present.

That expectations of supernatural activity enhance the personal authority of Alpha group leaders.

Implicit expectation of a high level of group conformity.

Three video presentations of a talk by a ‘celebrity’ charismatic leader.

Perhaps the last word should go to an Anglican lady interviewed by the Stephen Hunt, who said..

“My biggest argument against Alpha was a general feeling that is you hadn’t witnessed the Holy Spirit on the appointed weekend then you weren’t’ worth enough. The weekend was an intense day of being brainwashed. That was the day it was all leading up to and if you didn’t perform then they (the course leaders) thought they had failed. The type of pressure they put on you is like being with the Jehovah’s Witnesses”. [Pg. 246] [TOP OF PAGE]


Ministry of The Holy Spirit
It is very clear that the Holy Spirit weekend is the highlight of Alpha. However this completely misunderstands the work of the Spirit. Jesus clearly identified two aspects of the Holy Spirits function ..

The first applies to unbelievers

And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

And the others to believers.

He teaches/illumines us about scripture – John 16:13; He aids in prayer [Romand 8:26]; He assures us of our salvation [Romans 8:16]; He enables us to grow [Ephesians 5:18], Teaches all things [John 14:26] and very importantly He “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you”. [John 14:26]

Not only does the Spirit remind us of all Jesus taught, but He DOES NOT speak of Himself but glorifies Jesus [John 16:13-15]. In other words the ministry of the Holy Spirit is the continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ

“When the Apostles described the work of sanctification, they readily interchanged the person of the Holy Spirit with the person of Jesus Christ. For example, being led by the Holy Spirit is the same as led by the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16: 6-7); being controlled by the Holy Spirit means being controlled by the Spirit of Christ Romans 8: 9); living in the Spirit means living in Christ; walking in the Spirit means walking in Christ (Colossians 2: 6); and being filled with the Spirit means being filled with the Presence of Christ. The Holy Spirit can not be separated from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Since the Holy Spirit extends and continues the ministry of Jesus Christ, to seek discernment by asking the question, "what would Jesus do?" in a given situation is very relevant. For example, would Jesus blow at people and knock them over? Would Jesus poke people in the stomach and cause them to laugh? Would Jesus throw his power across the room and knock over three rows of people? Would Jesus cause his disciples to be "slain in the Spirit" and have "carpet time?"

If we believe that specific antics and practices are not consistent with the ministry of Jesus Christ revealed in the four Gospels, we could readily conclude that they are either fraudulent, psychologically induced, psychic, or occult. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is an extension of the ministry I of the Lord Jesus. It is not "another" or a different ministry”.

The implications being

1)The Holy Spirit will not draw attention to himself. You will not find the Holy Spirit where the focus is upon the Holy Spirit. You will find the Holy Spirit where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in its truth and purity and where Jesus is worshipped as King over kings, and Lord over lords.

2. Since the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to faith in Jesus Christ so that we might receive the blessings of life and salvation, there are no Holy Spirit produced manifestations, fruit, or life-changing dynamics where there is no faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Since psychological methods, mystical techniques, and the sociological dynamics of group pressure produce life changing dynamics for all people, regardless of their relationship with Jesus Christ, this can not be the work of the Holy Spirit. [16]


The Fullness of the Spirit

“In the talk 'How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit'', the fullness of the spirit is presented as a subsequent experience to conversion' There is scant evidence in scripture to suggest anything other than that the believer receives all of the Holy Spirit when he or she repents, puts their trust in Jesus and is justified. 'Be being filled with the spirit.' in Ephesians 5:18 is an ongoing command which acknowledges variation in filling among Christians but not a requirement to seek a second filling. The teaching 'Every Christian has the Holy Spirit, but not every Christian is filled with the Spirit' (Alpha manual, HTB Publishing, page 33) is at odds with Biblical teaching'

Not only is Alpha’s teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit 'inadequate' but it is also positively 'unscriptural'. Paul's command in Ephesians 5:18 to 'Be filled with the Holy Spirit' was given to believers who were already indwelt by the Holy Spirit in all His fullness ' The Spirit was God's gracious gift to them at the moment of their conversion and He still is today. But this is NOT how Alpha portrays the 'fullness of the spirit'. For Alpha this can be an experience for unbelievers.

Gumbel's reasoning suggests that there are two equally valid ways of becoming a Christian; one is to be persuaded by rational and historical explanations, and the other is by experiencing the Holy Spirit. To think thus is to ignore the fact that it is always the apostles' priority to present rational and historical explanations to all sorts of people wherever they proclaimed the gospel. It is the Holy Spirit who then applies these words to people's hearts and convicts them of their sin. This [Holy Spirit weekend] appears to be yet another way that the apostolic gospel is bypassed in an effort to make things as accessible as possible' For many the decisive moment is the Saturday evening of the weekend. For Alpha the decisive moment is not the preaching of Christ and Him crucified, but when the Holy Spirit is 'invoked'' Surely the moment when the guest repents and believes must be the decisive moment'. [17] [TOP OF PAGE]


Adaptability:
According to a Christianity Today article, Alpha has a “lay-led, relational format” and people are in fact advised to “tailor Alpha in minor ways to their local needs”. But many are concerned that it is just too flexible, bringing up the possibility that

“Catholics could add tradition, the Mormons could add the Book of Mormon, the Christian Scientists could add Mary Baker Eddy, and the Seventh-day Adventists could add Ellen G. White".

Seem far fetched? Actually not… considering the “All Saints' Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, California, has already added an "Alpha for the Gay Community" to its existing course”. [18]

And adapt it they have.. Alpha’s wide ecumenical appeal speaks volumes about it’s doctrinal weakness .. [TOP OF PAGE]


Catholic Alpha:
The Alpha course certainly doesn’t seem to rub any Catholics up the wrong way, with front-page headlines of Alpha News having declared “Roman Catholic Bishops Applaud Alpha as Course Spreads Through Church”. In May of 1997, about 450 Catholic leaders attended London’s Westminster Cathedral Hall where the first Roman Catholic Alpha conference took place.

And how is this possible? Simply because, shockingly

“… Gumbel never explains that good works cannot save. As a Church of England Curate, he well knows that the average Anglican or Catholic Alpha attendee is trusting in christening, baptism, confession, Mass attendance, church membership, confirmation and good deeds to get them to heaven. Does Gumbel address this crucial issue? Tragically no – not even a single paragraph explaining the difference between ‘grace’ and ‘works’. Gumbel never expounds the foundational truth of salvation ‘by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone’. This is no doubt one reason why the Roman Catholic Church finds Alpha so acceptable”. [19]

The Headlines of the June 2004 Alpha News tells us what ‘Catholic Alpha’ is

“You may ask - "What is Alpha for Catholics?" Alpha for Catholics refers to the use of the Alpha course within the Catholic Church. It is the unchanged standard Alpha course. Alpha is compatible with Catholic teaching, but it does not present wholly Catholic issues. It assumes that follow up teachings will be offered to Catholics and those wishing to become Catholic if they are not already”. [20]

And the primary use of this Catholic Alpha certainly seems to be evangelism, according to a ‘What Others Say’ page on the official Alpha site [21] and elsewhere. [Emphasis Added]

“Reports I hear about Catholic Alpha are always enthusiastically positive. Catholics find that their faith really comes alive and that they want to share it with others, especially with those who have drifted away from the faith. I am happy to encourage Catholic Alpha as a modem and effective form of evangelization”. [Rt Reverend John Boissonneau …Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto, Canada]

“From all I have seen of Alpha, it is the most marvellous tool for evangelisation... and Alpha serves to bring faith alive and to me that is the most important thing in the world." [Reverend B.J. Hickey… Catholic Archbishop of Perth, Western Australia]

“… the Alpha course is one of the key and accessible tools [for evangelisation] of our times. It meets the need of all humanity to find the meaning and purpose of life in the person of Jesus Christ ... and leads to being part of a community of believers who together discover, live, grow and share the good news of the Gospel." [Reverend John Dew…Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand]

'We want to evangelize, but we don't seem to have found the right method. I think that the Alpha course offers easily the best method so far invented' [Rt. Reverend Ambrose Griffiths, OSB, Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle] [22]

Note that all four of the above comments made mention of “evangelisation”. What is the Alpha course converting people to? The sad truth is that Alpha is so flexible with major issues like salvation, the cross, the death of Christ, etc., referred to in such a general way that false doctrine is not refuted.

So, since, as Father James Mallon, who pastors Canadian Martyrs-St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says

"Nothing in Alpha, properly understood, contradicts the Catholic Faith..” [23]

The Catholic church is using Alpha as a first step in converting people to Catholicism, after which comes the... [TOP OF PAGE]


Catholic Follow-Up
Drink from the Wells of the Church:

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Household in the Vatican, accepted an invitation from the Catholic Alpha office to give a series of seven talks on video which will be used as follow-up teaching to Alpha in the Roman Catholic church. The series, entitled, Drink from the Wells of the Church, includes talks on the Bible, Prayer, the Church and the ‘Power of Pentecost’. [24]

Please note that, in true Catholic fashion, the series is called “Drink from the Wells of the Church”. Alpha News, which also carried this article, failed to mention other titles in the video series such as 'The Eucharist Makes Us Holy' or 'Mary Our Model' and is aimed at “individuals who are serious about growing in their Catholic faith” [25].

And that it is the

“third follow-up to the Alpha course after Touching Jesus through the Church and Catholics Listening to God”. [26]

This is all inspite of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa saying that he especially appreciates the

“ecumenical spirit which is in Alpha courses – no pressure on anybody to join a different denomination but just to join Jesus, to put Jesus at the centre” and quarreling amongst ourselves is “…something out of date, obsolete” [27] [Also See Nicky Gumbel And Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa Below]

CaFE Resources (Catholic Faith Exploration) says

“CaFE resources are an ideal follow-up to Alpha in a Catholic context. These resources, which are filmed in a similar style to Alpha, help Catholics grow deeper in their faith as they explore the Sacraments and Teaching of the Catholic Church in a fun and life-giving way”. [28]

Canadianchristianity.com carries an article (July 26/2007) entitled Catholic Follow-Up To Alpha Course Gets Positive Reception, says

“Father James Mallon, who pastors Canadian Martyrs-St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia, designed Catholicism 201 to supplement the popular 10-week Alpha Course… Mallon's DVD lectures builds on those basics to cover Catholic teachings on subjects such as the Church, the Sacraments, Mary and the Saints and the "thorny issues" such as contraception and gay marriage… So far about 60 churches from across Canada have ordered a set.

He adds [Emphasis Added]

"Nothing in Alpha, properly understood, contradicts the Catholic Faith, but it must be completed, as any 'introductory course' must," he said. [29]

And do not believe for a moment that these follow-up courses are gathering dust somewhere.. St. Columba's parish in Aberdeen, Scotland uses many of them..

The first Alpha course held at St Columba's Church was in May 2006. This was a great success and the group so enjoyed meeting that they continued meeting, doing CaFE's (Catholic Faith Exploration) "Knowing God Better" course by David Payne. The group then moved to Tuesday nights to enable them to help run another Alpha Course on Wednesdays. During that time they did the "Drink from the Wells of the Church" course by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa and then a Life in the Spirit Seminar, before becoming a prayer group, providing prayer support to the 3rd Alpha course which started in January 2007. This Tuesday Group has now become the House of Bread Prayer Group. [30]

Regardless of people that tirelessly repeat the silly statement that ‘what unites us is greater than what divides us’, the differences between Catholics and Protestants are not simply a manner of form and style. Sadly, there are much bigger issues involved, with Catholicism preaching a false gospel. The problems are so large and so numerous that there is an entire section on Catholicism on this site. However one small example, readily apparent to anyone who bothers to do much reading on the Catholic position on salvation, the truth is crystal clear — the official position of the church is that salvation comes through grace, but the grace is distributed a little at a time through the official sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. [Also See Catholics and Protestants.. How Big Are The Differences? And A Cult is a Cult]

Catholic Alpha has circumnavigated the globe.. [TOP OF PAGE]


Alpha Courses for Catholics Around the World.

Hong Kong: The Headlines of the June 2004 Alpha News carried an enormous picture of Nicky Gumbel being presented to the pope, then focused on the 1st Alpha For Catholics in Hong Kong

“The first ever Alpha for Catholics course to be offered in Hong Kong ran from February and just finished in May. The course was run during the lunch hour on Mondays at the Catholic Centre in Central. By the Grace of God, the response was overwhelming with a full room of over 40 participants… The Catholic Church world-wide is embracing the Alpha Course as it is being run in Catholic Parishes in over 30 countries, including Japan and Singapore in Asia, and now Hong Kong! [31]

The following are from a cached page from www.ivanfoster.org

Rome: An increasing number of cardinals and senior Roman Catholic clergy are encouraging the course’s growth as they seek to fulfill the Pope’s call for a “new evangelisation”. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, France, has taken a close interest in the growth of Alpha in the country. Alpha is clearly seen as a means of advancing Romanism. It cannot be an instrument for promoting the gospel as well!

France: Speaking on the new Alpha introductory video, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, said, “For the French church, Alpha is a great opportunity for our time. It is a wonderful gift that we have received from England.” In January, around 600 Catholic lay leaders and priests attended an Alpha conference in Paris, where a fifth of all Catholic churches now run the Alpha course. The conference was run by the French Alpha office.

[Around 170 French Catholics - including 30 priests - attended Alpha Conferences at Holy Trinity Brompton, London, in February and June. The course’s popularity is growing fast in France following the recent publication of the Alpha materials in French… Many of those who attended wrote letters of thanks to say how they were profoundly moved by what they heard at the conference and that they now intend to set up Alpha courses at their home churches… Hundreds of other French Catholic leaders have attended special Alpha training sessions throughout France in recent months. By next year, it is believed that around 3,000 French church leaders will have received training in running Alpha courses. [32]

Scotland: The Roman Catholic church in Scotland is being encouraged to use Alpha by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Writing in the brochure for the Glasgow Alpha conference, he said, “A priority for me on my appointment as Cardinal was the ‘re-Christianisation of Scotland’. I see the Alpha course as an initial and very important tool for this programme – bringing together those who are seeking the way ahead through the following of the Christian faith.”

USA: In America, the course is having an impact on hundreds of Catholic parishes – and it is spreading fast. In April 1999, more than 500 Catholic clergy and lay leaders attended a conference in Baltimore introduced on video by Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore. Roman Catholic parishes using Alpha all over the world are experiencing “a new dynamism and sense of mission in their local congregations.”

One Roman Catholic lay leader, Mrs Mary Hagar, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, runs Alpha in two parishes near her home. She said, “I have been doing evangelisation programmes in the Catholic church for 30 years. We have been trying to evangelise people with minimal to poor to dismal success. I
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