The Alpha Course: Is It Bible-Based Or Hell-Inspired? (Part 3 of 3)
By Paul Fitton
Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, Bridlington Extension
Now whilst I do not doubt that there have been some who have genuinely been converted, I also must point out that many have been led into a false profession. Bear in mind the fact that the original course and book were intended to redress the problem of declining numbers in the church. Bear in mind also that churches which have struggled for years to get people into their church see the course as a quick way to filling the church with people. It is being taken on by more and more churches which see it as a quick way to correct their failures. They are simply 'proselytes of Christianity'. They consent to the teaching that is given about Christ and seek to live as a Christian, but it results from an act of their own volition. They make a conscious decision to live as a Christian, believing the tenets of Christianity and doing basic Christian activities, but sadly their heart has never been changed by the Holy Spirit.
Gumble shows us that at the end of the day he holds to this view. On page 221, he refers to the vastness of the universal Christian Church, informing us that the Encyclopaedia Britannica states that the Church has some 1.7 billion adherents world-wide. He confuses church membership with belonging to Christ. Sadly, many, many of this vast number have never experienced the rebirth, they are not in a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Such thinking as expressed by Gumbel and propagated by the Alpha course is not Scripturally sound. It is Arminian in doctrine and humanistic in philosophy. There is a lack of understanding with respect to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This is backed up by Gumbel himself. On page 120 of Telling Others he writes: "At the end of the course I send out questionnaires. [ ] If there is a change I ask when that change occurred. For many the decisive moment is the Saturday evening of the weekend." This of course is on the "Come, Holy Spirit" weekend. It is the time when Nicky Gumbel invites the Holy Spirit to come and the participants are filled with the Spirit.
There is something fundamentally wrong here. The decisive moment is when the Holy Spirit comes rather than the momentous occasion when they were supposedly converted. If nothing else shows the fallacy of the Alpha Course, this certainly does. The time when as the Bible teaches the Spirit of God enters the soul and works the miracle of regeneration, the soul dead in sin being made alive, the soul in darkness having the light of Christ lit within it, is not viewed as the decisive moment. There is something fundamentally wrong here.
Unfortunately time does not permit to deal with all the errors of this book, but suffice it to say, Christians need to be on their guard. Gumbel intertwines many falsehoods with truth as the course is followed. He gives credence to Westcott and Hort, two heretics responsible for the production of the text upon which the modern perversions of scripture are based. He advocates Ecumenical unity at the expense of fundamental Gospel truths. He teaches that natural gifts are greatly enhanced when they are taken on by the Holy Spirit which is why many rock musicians have turned their natural ability into what is now termed 'Rock Gospel'. These are aspects which we could spend considerable time examining, but there Is an Issue at the heart of the Alpha course that demands our attention.
The main objection with this course is its teaching regarding the Holy Spirit. The main objection with this course is its teaching regarding the Holy Spirit. This is especially the case in connection with His work and gifts. This should come as no great surprise for Gumble is extremely Charismatic in his teaching. His work is therefore filled with charismatic teaching and although the book was prepared prior to the phenomenon known as the Toronto Blessing it is undoubtedly pro Toronto Blessing.
Throughout the book there are references to John Wimber. Undoubtedly Wimberism has had its influence on Nicky Gumbel. On tape five of the video set Nicky Gumbel dates his call to Evangelism to the 1982 incident in which he received prayer from John Wimber. He relates part of that incident on page 201 of Questions of Life. The video, however, gives a little more information. It tells us that on the occasion in question, he experienced such supernatural power that he had to call out for it to stop. It was at that time that Wimber gave a 'Word of knowledge' that Gumbel had been given a gift of telling others. He can trace his ministry of telling others to that particular time. Isn't that interesting? Time does not permit me to deal fully with John Wimber, but let me say this. Wimber says that in 1977 God clearly spoke to him - that God gave him a revelation a direct communication. God said to him: 'I've seen your ministry; now I am going to show you mine. Preach forgiveness of sins, and the healing of the body; preach the Kingdom.'
Note that he is not being told to preach Christ, or the Blood, or the Cross or the Gospel, or the Book. Note that he is not being told to preach Christ, or the Blood, or the Cross or the Gospel, or the Book. He is being told to preach the Kingdom. This doctrine has been described in a variety of ways - Restorationism, or Dominion Theology, to name a few. It is a unique and new form of Pentecostalism and it is the basis of the Toronto Blessing. In fact it has been said that as to its theology and practice the Toronto Blessing is 'Wimberism'. Umbel shows aspects of this teaching in chapter thirteen. He refers to the Kingdom, the preaching of the Kingdom. He speaks of the Kingdom in the same terms as Wimber, the healing of the sick, signs and wonders. He is paving the way for people to experience the same phenomena as those in the Toronto Blessing.
Now in the Toronto Blessing the New Age philosophy that "experience leads to explanation" is the order of the day. Indeed, a close examination of the Toronto Blessing will reveal that it is a replica of New Age philosophy and practice in the guise of Christianity.
This is nothing but New Age teaching dressed up. We are constantly told that the Church is moving into the realm of the supernatural. This is nothing but New Age teaching dressed up. They believe humanity is moving into a higher humanity. That there is a quantum leap.
In the Toronto Blessing there is the 'experience of the Holy Spirit' in the New Age. It is called 'tuning in to the Divine Consciousness'.
In the Toronto Blessing there is the 'Word of Knowledge', and revelations from the Spirit realm. In the New Age there is what is termed 'Channelling from the Spirit World'.
In the Toronto Blessing there is a 'transmission of anointing' through the close proximity to a teacher, or the touch upon the forehead. In the New Age there is the 'transmission into Higher Consciousness' through the close proximity of a Guru, or Shakti pat, Shakti pat comes from Hinduism, shakti meaning power. Power transmitted by simply a touch.
I could go on, but that will suffice for the present to show the connection between the New Age philosophy and practice and the Toronto Blessing. Similarly, the thrust of the Alpha course is towards the experiential and not the written Word of God. Commenting on the weekend away, Gumbel says of those from a New Age background: "They are on more familiar territory in experiencing the Holy Spirit". (Telling Others, page 19.) How is this? Surely Christianity should be a million miles away from occultism. Yet they are at home. There is a similarity in what they believed and held to in the New Age movement, and what they come across in the teaching and experience regarding the Holy Spirit in that weekend away.
There are others and perhaps they are young converts ... who because of a lack of teaching in their particular Church, they have joined the course. It is obvious from what we said earlier that there are many who arrive at the part of the course which deals with the work of the Holy Spirit who know nothing of genuine conversion. There are others and perhaps they are young converts, and still others who because of a lack of teaching in their particular Church, they have joined the course. The Alpha course then takes them through the 'experience' of receiving the Holy Spirit. Now during this time - on the Saturday evening - Gumbel prays for the Holy Spirit to come upon them.
Now how do they know that they have received the Holy Spirit? Well, one of the evidences is that they speak in tongues. I say one because Gumbel does not fall into the trap of many Charismatics. He has learned by their mistakes and so he does inform us that not every Christian will speak in tongues.
I John 4:1 - "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." At this point let me do something which Gumbel tells Christians to do but which he himself and those on the course fail to do. Test the spirits. I John 4:1 - "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." The Bible teaches us to try, or test the spirits, to see if they are of God and the reason given is that there are false prophets in the world. How do we try the spirits? By the Book; by the Word of God. "If they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them." If it is the Spirit of God coming upon them then their experience must measure up to what the Bible teaches. If it does not then the phenomenon - in this case tongues - and the experience - receiving the Spirit - must be rejected. If the phenomenon associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit does not measure up to the standard of God's Word, then it is not the Holy Spirit of God, but another spirit, that comes upon them.
Gumbel, in Questions of Life, chapter 9, pages 140-144, makes the following statements regarding what tongues are and the benefits they bring:
He states that speaking in tongues "is a form of prayer" and he quotes I Corinthians 14:2 as his proof. Let us read the verse: "For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God." That is where the learned Mr. Gumbel ends the verse and states that because it is speaking to God it is prayer. That is not what the Apostle is teaching. Paul does not say speaking in tongues is prayer. Look at the rest of the verse: "For no man understandeth him." He is saying that if a person speaks in another language in the gathering of God's people than the one that they understand then only God knows what he is saying. Paul backs up this statement by saying: "Howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries." Note the connecting word in the next verse: "But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." Paul says no man but God knows what a person speaking in tongues is saying. His words are a mystery, they are of no value to the church.
This is not a commendation for tongues. It is not saying that tongues are for prayer, rather Paul is saying they are of no value it employed in this manner. It is not prayer. In verse 14 Gumbel expresses that Paul speaks of prayer in relation to tongues. So he does: "For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayer, but my understanding is unfruitful". There! Mr. Gumbel has proved it! I am afraid not! You must read the next verse. Paul says there: "What is it then, I will pray with the spirit, and pray with the understanding also." Paul continues to apply the same argument to worship to praise. What is his argument? It is this: If you pray in tongues your understanding is empty, it is unfruitful, but that is not the way you should pray, that is not the way in which you should worship. Your understanding, your mind should be active. This is a terrible aspect of the Charismatic and Toronto-style meetings. People are told to empty their minds, but God never tells Christians to empty their mind. They must be alert, aware, conscious of what they are doing.
Gumbel then gives us three areas where tongues can help the Christian:
- In praise and worship
- Praying under pressure
- Praying for other people
Isn't that strange? The two things Paul has just spoken of here - praise and praying - are the uses of tongues which he gives. Paul doesn't substantiate what he is teaching! In fact the Bible teaches the opposite to what he is saying! In fact the Bible teaches the opposite to what he is saying! I find it even more extra-ordinary when he omits to mention the Scriptural purpose for the gift of Tongues: Acts 2:4 - "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." They were speaking in their tongues. There was no learning to speak, no going over gibberish until it came. There and then they were given the gift of tongues. Does it not surprise you to discover that the same Holy Spirit according to Gumbel doesn't give a perfect gift? In the training manual of the Alpha Course, relating to the giving of the gift of tongues, page 17, section 9, it says: "Encourage the person to start to speak in another language [ ]." On page 147 of Questions of Life he not only teaches that we should "ask God to fill you with the Spirit and give you the gift of tongues", but in point 6 he states: "Persevere. Languages take time to develop. Most of us start with a very limited vocabulary. Gradually it develops. Tongues are like that. It takes time to develop the gift. Don't give up." Does the same Spirit give a perfect gift on the day of Pentecost and an imperfect one today? We are examining Acts 2:4. They began to speak in tongues. Why? Was it the sign that they had received the promise of the Father? Was it to praise or prayer to God? No! Verses 5 and 6 give the purpose. They inform us that there were men in Jerusalem from all parts of the earth and the Apostles preached to them in their own language. The gift of tongues was given that they might preach the Gospel.
Whatever comes upon them during that weekend, we can be sure that it is not the Spirit of God. Gumbel, in his teaching about the Holy Spirit, never mentions this. His doctrine is not in accord with the Bible. The experience of many who attend this is course is not in accordance with the Word of God. The tongues manifested at the "Come, Holy Spirit, Weekend" are not the same either in character or in purpose as the tongues in the Scripture. "They speak not according to this Word." Now it follows that if the evidence of the experience is unsound, the experience itself must also be unsound.
Whatever comes upon them during that weekend, we can be sure that it is not the Spirit of God.
Time does not permit for the examination of other phenomena associated with this occurrence. Gumbel teaches that there are those who by the same spirit receive the gift of healing, words of knowledge, visions, dreams, and prophecies. He opens the minds of those who participate in the course to extra Biblical revelations, to signs and wonders. The mind of all who are taught these errors is open to the thought that a revelation from God, a word of knowledge from the Spirit, a word given by prophecy, are all on a par with the Word of God. If this is accepted, anything can be taught in the name of Christ. Absolutely anything can be taught and it follows that if it is as they claim from the Spirit of God, then it must be believed. Thus what men say is taken on board as the truth of God without any Scriptural ground.
There is a great danger here. There is a great danger here. The Alpha Course is being used to prime the pump, to condition the thinking of church people to accept the teachings an phenomena which we associate with the Toronto Blessing - phenomena which have no anchorage in Scripture; doctrines which otherwise would be rejected out of hand.
These phenomena are unbiblical. There is no ground in Scripture upon which to anchor them. The Alpha course in its philosophy is New Age. It relies heavily upon experience; in practice it leads to experiences which are rooted in the occult: if they are calling down the spirit and they are possessed by that spirit, and that spirit is not the Spirit of God, then they have opened their minds to other spirits, to evil spirits. It promotes Humanism, Arminianism, Ecumenism, and Charismatism. There is evil being done in the name of Christ, wickedness being practiced and taught in the name of the Lord. The Alpha Course is only conditioning people to accept these errors, to tolerate and to take on these evils.
The Alpha course is not Bible-based; it does not rest firmly upon the Book. The Alpha course is not Bible-based; it does not rest firmly upon the Book. It leads people away from truth and into error therefore it is Hell-inspired. As Christians we must stand apart from that which is the vehicle for propagating false doctrine and false experience. The Christian is told to reject error, to withdraw from those who teach and practice falsehood. God says: "Come out from among them, and be ye separate [ ] and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you". On the basis of God's Word I say we must reject the Alpha Course and all that is associated with it.
May God help us therefore to fulfill our duty and responsibility to reject this error and to speak out boldly against it.
Amen and Amen.