Question: "What is the Alpha Course?"

Answer: This article takes a very cautious view of the Alpha Course. We do recognize, however, that the Alpha Course has been a tremendous help to many Christians. Many people have come to faith in Jesus Christ through the Alpha Course. Many more have been strengthened in their faith and knowledge of God’s Word because of the Alpha Course. So, why do we give a warning about the Alpha Course? The problem is that the Alpha Course can be very different depending on the church/organization that is using it. In the hands of a solidly evangelical teacher, the Alpha Course can be excellent. In the hands of someone trying to push beliefs and practices that are biblically questionable, the Alpha Course can be used to indoctrinate and mislead. As with any course or teaching, we must be diligent and discerning. We must diligently study God’s Word on our own and reject anything that contradicts the Bible. We must be discerning in evaluating the qualifications of the person or people teaching the course.

The Alpha Course was started in the United Kingdom, at Holy Trinity Brompton Church, by Nicky Gumbel and Sandy Millar in 1977. This Anglican church in London was the center of the holy laughter movement in England and Europe, and has been known for services that include being “slain in the Spirit” and behaviors such as uncontrollable laughter, spasms, loud animal-like noises and physical manifestations during emotionally driven services. While there is much good teaching in the Alpha Course, this extreme background sometimes finds its way into the teachings of the course.

The Alpha Course begins with a solid presentation of the gospel message and progresses with some solid biblical teachings. It is interesting that the Alpha Course does not seek to teach about the person, character or attributes of God, and does not focus on doctrine, which may cause division among those whom they seek to include, New Age adherents and Roman Catholics, for example. The Alpha Course is ecumenical, and any course that can appeal to the wide range of traditions and denominations, as the Alpha Course does, has to sacrifice many essential Bible truths. A wide tent that is inclusive of those who hold teachings contrary to the tenets of the faith for which we are to contend (Jude 3) necessitates that the Word of God is sliced and diced into palatable portions, leading to error and following humanistic viewpoints rather than the revealed Word of the Lord. This sometimes results in the Alpha Course eventually working its way into error and ritualism, works-based salvation, and even occult manifestations. The push is for experience-driven evangelism while biblical doctrines are side-stepped or ignored (1 Timothy 4:13, 16).

Some teachers have used the Alpha Course to teach “kingdom now” theology, which is also called “dominionism” or “triumphalism.” This is the idea that those who have enough faith can enjoy right now all or most of the physical and health benefits promised during the coming Millennial Kingdom of Christ on earth. This is nothing more than the “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel repackaged with a new name. Wealth, health and good times are promised in the name of “faith.” This treats God like a spiritual ATM who must give what we ask, rather than a holy God deserving of our submission to His perfect will and His sovereign purpose. With a teacher from this persuasion, the Alpha Course can be used to promote the idea that the Holy Spirit can be called upon to perform His works in response to man’s demand.

This, of course, is not biblical. It incorrectly applies passages such as John 14:12 where Jesus says, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.” Jesus, in His incarnation, was limited to one space at one time as He laid aside the prerogatives of His divine nature (Philippians 2:6-8). The sending of the Spirit to live in the hearts of the apostles and believers has brought untold millions to faith in Him, and that is the “greater” works referred to here, not the miracle signs that accompanied Jesus’ ministry on earth to authenticate Him as the Jewish Messiah.

The Lord Jesus Christ told the disciples and all who would believe upon Him through their testimony (John 17:20) that He had to go away to prepare a place for us but would not leave us comfortless or orphans but that the Father would send another Comforter. This Comforter is another of the same kind and quality as Christ Himself, and He would be with them and in them (John 14:17). Never is it said that He would come upon them and cause them to lose control of themselves. We are called to do “all things decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Nowhere in Scripture do we see the Lord Jesus ever laying His hands on the disciples and producing manifestations of uncontrollable laughter, shaking, animal noises, the need to be restrained to protect oneself from harm, or the loss of bodily control. Rather, Jesus rebuked the demons or devils that caused these manifestations and healed those who were possessed of them (Matthew 4:24; 8:16, 28; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22).

Peter warns us in 2 Peter 2:1 about false prophets and false teachers, who would “introduce destructive heresies and even deny the sovereign Lord.” Although there are many positive things about the Alpha Course, due to its ecumenicalism, it is easy for false and dangerous ideas to be introduced. The apostle Paul said, “a little leaven, leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9). As believers, we are to test the spirits and to be informed and not deceived by the false teachers that abound today, whom the apostle Paul warned of in his day (2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Timothy 3:1-7). And these valuable lessons are left for us to use and apply in every age.

Again, as with any course or teaching, we must be diligent and discerning. We must diligently study God’s Word on our own and reject anything which contradicts the Bible. We must also be discerning in evaluating the qualifications of the person or people teaching the course.