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This is the (fully revised) text of a
booklet I wrote on the Alpha Course in 1995/6.
Jo Gardner, in the Preface to that booklet, wrote:
"...Nicky Gumbel over-emphasises what we are saved to at the expense of what we are saved from. This imbalance is a general trend in new evangelical circles at present and seems to be increasing in prominence ... It stems from teaching that God is primarily love when the scriptures point to the primary characteristic of God as being holy ... The result of emphasising Gods love is that the need of repentance for sin and the consequences of that sin in the sight of a holy God who must, and will, judge it is hardly mentioned.
"Christians are being presented with a deficient ... understanding of God and the basis of our relationship with Him. I am convinced that there are now many in the churches who believe they are Christians but are not, because they have never truly repented of sin and become dependent on Jesus Christ both as Saviour and Lord. The result is a church which is in many respects no different to the world and is also wide open to receive every deceptive teaching and activity presented to it."
The Alpha Initiative is the most popular evangelistic programme in use in Britain’s churches at present. Alpha’s publications manager advises everyone "to do the course exactly as we’ve laid out for the first time - because we know it works" . At first glance this advice seems well and good, but in fact a purely pragmatic approach to spiritual things is not scriptural and can even be very dangerous...
Certainly "the natural desire of every Christian is to see souls saved...", but I would also 'amen' that same writer's following statement:
Referring to Matthew 23:15, Robert Bowman of the CRI (an evangelical discernment ministry) writes:
Today we might apply that to Jehovahs Witnesses for example.
Alpha certainly starts by making many gospel statements. However, as the Course progresses, some of the talks tend to wander off into (a) lengthy accounts of Holy Trinity Bromptons experiences of the Toronto Blessing and associated ministries, (b) novel exegeses of various Bible passages common amongst pro-Toronto preachers, (c) calls for unity despite truth, and (d) an over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit. All of these are less than helpful to potential Christians.
(I) Alphas Connection with the Toronto Blessing
The Alpha Course has been used at Holy Trinity Brompton CofE since 1977, yet was virtually unknown elsewhere until Eleanor Mumford of the South-West London Vineyard church brought the 'Blessing' back from the Toronto Airport Vineyard church in Canada to HTB, via Nicky Gumbel, in May 1994 . In the Alpha Course Talk 9, Gumbel spends a substantial amount of time relating to Alpha participants exactly how it occurred:
Gumbel returned to HTB where he apologised for being late for a meeting due to what had happened. Asked to close this meeting in prayer he says:
There are a few observations to make here.
The first is the unquestioning acceptance by both groups of such manifestations. Similarly, the invocation of the Spirit was not queried. Secondly, I think it is pertinent to note that the Spirit came before the name of Jesus could be brought into the prayer. Thirdly, if one chap really was prophesying, then he was speaking directly to these people from God and his words should have been heeded, tested, and applied. But it seems they were completely ignored.
Later on in this account, and again in Talk 7, Gumbel compares the behaviour of these Toronto recipients (as do all Toronto leaders) to the drunken behaviour of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. He says "they [the apostles] looked as though they were drunk; some of the manifestations were the same as that of a drunkard". Although this exegesis is a convenient explanation of the spiritual drunkenness being seen at TB meetings, it is not the Biblical one, and has not been preached as such until now.
The vast majority of the crowd were "amazed" and "confounded" not because the apostles were showing "all the signs of inebriation" (Talk 7), and which the passage itself nowhere says, but because "we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:6-12). The crowd formed because of the sound of these tongues (v6) which were clear and easily understood. It was only a minority who accused the apostles of being "full of new wine" (v13), and there is no indication in the passage that, of such a large crowd, their's was the considered judgment.
The result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a lengthy and powerful sermon that brought approximately 3000 people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ almost immediately. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not given that we may lie on the floor on our backs with our feet in the air laughing like hyenas (Talk 9). Gumbels description of the antics that went on in the vestry of HTB after their invocation of the Spirit seems to me to bear no resemblance at all to what happened on the day of Pentecost .
Yet Alpha participants are being taught all this, as part of an evangelistic/Christian Living course, as though it is normal and desirable, with absolutely no mention made of the need to test it; and at the end of this talk they are prayed for, corporately, to receive it. Thus they are initiated into the Toronto Blessing without a whimper of protest amongst them.
(A) PROBLEMS WITH THE TORONTO BLESSING
(1) The Blessing Itself as Experienced in Meetings
The Toronto Blessing originated with Rodney Howard-Browne the Holy Ghost Bartender .
The Theology Underlying the Toronto Blessing is the Latter-Rain Movement:
Essentially, this is a Christianised form of the secular theory of evolution which, beginning with the physical evolution of man from primitive life-forms, will culminate, so we are told, in the spiritual evolution of man into gods. This will supposedly be achieved through mans realisation of his Christ consciousness or the Christ within which, the New Age gurus tell us, is now beginning to occur as we move from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius.
This is, of course, nothing other than belief in the lie which Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:4-5), yet it is finding its way into the Christian Church through the Latter-Rain movements teaching on the Manifest Sons of God, and the Word Faith teaching on the deification of man. The Latter-Rain worldview also incorporates the closely interrelated doctrines of Kingdom-Now, Dominionism and Restorationism. These teachings are post-millennial and Triumphalist (i.e. they replace the Lord Jesus with the Church) and include within them Replacement Theology, which is a subtle form of anti-semitism .
Latter-Rain doctrine was rejected as a heresy by the Assemblies of God in the 1950s, though accepted by other Pentecostal leaders such as William Branham (who was a direct influence on Paul Cain of the Kansas City Prophets), Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin (the so-called father of the Word Faith movement), and three out of the 'Fort Lauderdale Five' who for many years published the widely read magazine New Wine. Having bubbled along underground for a number of years, Latter-Rain teachings have now resurfaced in various forms in many Charismatic churches on both sides of the Atlantic - in particular the Vineyard group of churches.
The Kansas City Prophets are based at the Metro Vineyard church, the pastor of which is Mike Bickle whose recommendation of the Alpha Initiative can be seen in various editions of HTB in Focus: Alpha News, e.g. Aug 1995, p3 .
The comment made by Sandy Millar at the beginning of Video I: "Is it possible to attract people to the Christian faith today, in the sort of numbers that we need?" raises the question: "need" for what? Every unbeliever needs personal salvation; that is why the gospel is preached. But Millar did not say that. The paragraph of which that comment is a part concentrates on the Churchs need for members; for "new growth and new life" of the Church.
Revival of the Church would be wonderful, but Scripture actually tells us that the opposite will happen before the return of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 24:7-13; 2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4 etc) . However, Restorationist/Kingdom-Now theology needs vast numbers of Christians so that the Church - united, militant and triumphant - can bring about Gods Kingdom on earth and then hand it over, restored to its Edenic state, to Jesus at His coming.
Obviously that is a violent distortion of, amongst other scriptures, Acts 3:21. Nevertheless it is an eschatology being taught and believed in many Charismatic Fellowships today. Corporate, not individual, repentance is necessary to achieve the numbers required to form "Gods endtime army that will march through the land to victory"; the ultimate aim of evangelism being "the establishing of the Kingdom of God apart from Christs return" .
So, one of my concerns is whether the Toronto 'Blessing', which is being experienced at HTB, can possibly be divorced from the Alpha Initiative. In view of the similarities of emphasis and content between the two, Im not sure that it can. Consequently I am concerned that, in using the Alpha course, churches may inadvertently be introducing participants to the TB (along with all that this it is a forerunner of) by the back door .
(It is worthy of note that, on 5th December 1995 (i.e. after almost two years of the TB being spread around the globe), the board of the Association of Vineyard churches removed the Toronto Airport Vineyard church (TAV) from the Vineyard organisation. John Wimber (Vineyard's late leader) said he felt that "the leaders of TAV have strong convictions which could not be reconciled with Vineyard values and the pastoral leadership and correction coming from the Vineyard Board". However, another possibility is that, since the TB was by that time being widely dispensed from Pensacola, Vineyard would make itself appear less extreme if it distanced itself from the progenitor. This had the added bonus of encouraging many of TBs doubters to accept Pensacola as a reasonable alternative .)
In common with the leadership of the Toronto Blessing, Alpha also promotes "unity" between Protestants and Roman Catholics, with no consideration of the irreconcilable doctrines of the two Churches. Thus another major concern is Alpha's trend towards Ecumenism (for more on Alpha and Ecumenism, please see Part (IV), section (F), sub-section (1) below).
(II) Power Evangelism
"Where evangelism is integrally related to the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit" .
Heavily influenced by the Signs and Wonders ministry of John Wimber in the 1980s, power evangelism has been one of the preparation grounds for the Toronto Blessing/Experience. It focuses on a pragmatic/experiential rather than a proclamatory/doctrinal approach to spreading the gospel. As such it tends to shift the focus away from the shed blood of Jesus on the cross and onto the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit carried out by men. This is the method of evangelism favoured by Alpha .
Dave Hunt, of Berean Call Ministries in America, has wisely written of power evangelism:
(III) Alpha and the New Age
All of this heightened interest amongst Charismatic Christians in Signs and Wonders and the supernatural experiences of the Toronto Blessing is a reflection of spiritual and cultural changes going on outside Christianity, of which New Age experiential mysticism is a predominant force.
Nicky Gumbel is aware of the paradigm shift from reason to experience. He says:
Neo-mysticism is already so pervasive that virtually every non-Christian participant of Alpha - or any other evangelistic initiative - will to some degree reflect New Age thinking. Yes, in New Age philosophy, "experiences lead to explanation"; but in Christianity, "If experience becomes relevant in certain areas it becomes relevant in applying the Word" . Yet, like the Toronto Experience, the thrust of Alpha is towards the experiential and away from the written Word.
One pastor who has made use of the Alpha Course writes:
The two testimonies given by Alpha participants at the beginning of the first Alpha video are prime examples of the above. There are certain basic elements one would expect to hear in a classic conversion testimony: (1) The conviction of sin leading to repentance; (2) the subsequent assurance of Gods forgiveness; and (3) salvation through the death on the cross of Jesus Christ. Yet these are absent in any form in these testimonies. As for the "new creation" of which Paul speaks in 2 Cor. 5:17, the good news would seem to be that there isnt one. Before she became a Christian, one of the participants recalls that she didnt want a personality change; she was happy with her life and saw no reason for change:
A relationship with God is sometimes referred to, as is the discovery of prayer, an interest in Bible reading, in church-going, in Christianity, and what Alpha has done for them. However, Jesus and what He has done for them, and a personal relationship with Him are not mentioned at all. Yet the Lord Jesus is the gospel. He is salvation. He is their new life. These things being so, how can He possibly be so completely overlooked in a basic conversion testimony?
Adherents of false religions claim a relationship with God, and a prayer life, but they are not saved. Many churchgoers read their Bibles and have an interest in church and in Christianity, but they are not saved. Likewise, more compassion/understanding at work, more patience, tolerance, confidence, and deep feelings of contentment can equally well be produced by a sense of psychological well-being. Without the cross they do not constitute salvation. The attempt by Gumbel to bring Jesus into the testimonies by asking exactly what had made these differences was met with a blank look and the response: "Just the relationship that Ive developed with God. Simple as that".
These testimonies seemed to me, as Ian Lewis suggests, only evidence of conversion to a Christian lifestyle, not to Christ. And when the "Christian lifestyle" is an endless round of blessings, supernatural experiences, spiritual parties [see Talk 14] and play times , none of which is noticeably different from non-Christian spiritual experiences, then the transition from the counterfeit spirituality of the New Age to Christianity is really only one of degree, not kind. That being so, I would echo the question of one evangelical minister who asked: "What is it they are converted to?"
(IV) Evangelism or Christian Living?
introduction to the Alpha videos, Sandy Millar recognises
that "most people need time in which to consider the
most important claims they have ever had to face". It is ironic then that time is not given to Alpha
participants in which to consider the person and work of
Jesus Christ before they are rushed into the rest of the
(A) THE HOLY SPIRIT WEEKEND
The White Alpha Training Manual pp26-36, Talks 7-9:
"For a long time in the church the person and work of the Holy Spirit has been ignored. There has been a greater concentration on the Father and the Son" [p26].
"We live in the age of the Spirit" [p29].
These statements are misleading for a couple of reasons. Firstly, since an unbeliever or new Christian would not know the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Father and the Son, the statements effectively marginalise the first two sessions on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus and serve to prepare the participant to accept unquestioningly anything that may occur during the weekend. Secondly, Christians have always referred to the period of time between the first and second advents as the age of Grace, or the Church age. That has not changed. Why then encourage, in todays precarious spiritual climate, the New Age concept of the Age of Aquarius (the spirit)?
Continuing his observations on the New Age, Nicky Gumbel writes:
But it is the "rational and historical explanations" of sessions 1 and 2 which are the essence of the gospel (Acts 2:22-41; 6:9-7:60; 8:26-38; 17:16-33) and which the unbeliever must grasp and accept with his mind, under the convicting and illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, if he is to repent and experience salvation in his heart (Rom. 10:13-14). Moreover, it is by the renewing of his mind that the Christian is transformed and made holy (Rom. 12:1,2; see also Psa. 19:7-11), and without holiness he will not see God (Heb. 12:14).
Nevertheless: "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 is the time when Gumbel invites the Holy Spirit to come and participants are filled with the Spirit .
I find this extremely worrying. The "decisive moment" should surely be the point at which a person steps over from eternal death to eternal life through the conversion experience (John 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 10:9,10,13; and other refs). But most of the testimonies in Telling Others seem to confuse the experience of conversion with the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit.
But is this surprising when Gumbel himself seems to treat conversion as a preliminary to the main event? The breath of new life into a repentant sinner is taught in Talk 7, but Gumbel does not make it clear that this happens at conversion (2 Cor. 5:17). Rather, he suggests it is due to a second experience: the baptism in the Spirit. References to Isaiah 61:1-3 and to Samsons freedom "from the ropes that bound him", for example, are applied to the Holy Spirit despite the fact that in Luke 4:16-21 Jesus is quoting the Isaiah passage with reference to Himself. It is the shed blood of the Lord Jesus that frees us from the things that bind us (John 8:32-36; Gal. 5:1; Rev. 1:5). Likewise, in discussing Pauls conversion in Talk 9, the emphasis is placed not on Pauls meeting with Jesus Christ but on his subsequent baptism in the Spirit.
On preparing participants for baptism in the Holy Spirit, leaders are advised to "take time to sort out difficulties of understanding, belief and assurance; lead to Christ" . To say that to be unsaved is a "difficulty of understanding, belief and assurance" is, I would suggest, an understatement of some magnitude! Coupled with the un-biblical practice of invoking the Holy Spirit at this point in the Course, it is necessary to ask whether it truly is the baptism in the Holy Spirit these participants are experiencing. The ramifications, if it is not, are obvious and terrible .
The following testimony is an alarming example of the confusion between conversion and baptism in the Holy Spirit, but it is by no means the only one:
Once that startling testimony has sunk in, a couple of things become apparent: Firstly, as with the testimonies on the video, even the basic elements of a conversion testimony are missing. In fact the gospel of Christ is referred to here as "pre-med" in which, the participant plainly states, he had no interest (the "prize" was not considered to be salvation but this other experience - another example of the Alpha spirit falling on the unsaved?). Secondly, not only did Gumbel not seek to correct the focus of this participant from the Holy Spirit onto the Lord Jesus where it rightly belongs, and ensure he had actually been saved, but he also gave the testimony a prominent place in Telling Others as a witness and example to others. (Incidentally, Dominionism and Triumphalism are evident in the last three paragraphs of the full testimony as given in Renewal [p17]. This participant is now a helper on Alpha courses at HTB.)
In Talk 8, Gumbel says "When we come to Christ the first thing the Holy Spirit wants to do is to assure us of that relationship, and that we are totally, totally forgiven". Although he continues, "the Holy Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are children of God", all the subsequent examples focus on soulish (i.e. tangible) feelings and experiences. The testimony at the beginning of Video I, in which "a sensation of energy ... as if I had 5000 volts thrashing through my body" is seen to be the Holy Spirits assurance of salvation, is only one example of the results of such teaching. Experiences of this kind can be, and are, produced by any spirit wanting access to a believers life. I am not convinced they come from the Holy Spirit.
The misuse of Ephesians 5:18-20 and Revelation 22:17 in Talk 8, in order to initiate Alpha participants into the TB, is inexcusable. In the Ephesians passage, Paul is not commanding the believers to experience a second Pentecost, but is rebuking them for behaving like pagans and unbelievers. Verse 18 is a contrast not a comparison between the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit and the fruit produced by the sinful nature. It is a call by Paul, not for baptism (i.e. empowerment for building up the Church) but for sanctification, for some evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives which at that point was seriously lacking.
And the passage in Revelation has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Pentecost (the Holy Spirit is hardly going to invoke Himself!) and everything to do with the physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of the age.
Though the prayer at the close of these talks includes repentance, the gospel talks are not, at this point, uppermost in participants minds, and the corporate request "inviting the Holy Spirit to come and fill us" is then made by all in the room.
The content of these three talks overlaps to such an extent that they could quite easily have been combined into one address. In fact each aspect of the Holy Spirits work could have been included in the relevant sections of the other talks. The Spirits conviction of sin in an unbeliever, for example, fits in with Talks 2 and 3; assurance of salvation in Talk 4; teaching believers the Word in Talk 5; enabling believers to pray in Talk 6; producing fruit and empowering us for certain ministries in Talk 15 and so on .
talks the focus has thus shifted very definitely from the
cross of Christ to the power of the Spirit.
(B) HOW CAN I RESIST EVIL?
The White Alpha Training Manual, pp39-45, Talk 10
In section II of this session, Satans tactics are listed. He: destroys; blinds eyes; causes doubt; tempts; accuses. Gumbel applies all of these to the area of Christian behaviour. Deception, the tactic focusing on belief, is omitted. This oversight can be deadly. Deception concerning doctrine is Satans most powerful weapon against the Church, and new Christians need to be made aware just how practised Satan is at deceiving Christians through false doctrines and false spiritual experiences .
When asked by His disciples what would be the signs of His return, the Lords first words in response were "Take heed that no man deceive you" (Matt. 24:4, also 24:5, 10-11 & 23-25). A great deal of the content of the letters to the New Testament churches were warnings against being deceived by heresies and false teachers (e.g. 2 Cor. 11:3; Gal. 1:6-9; 3:1-5; 2 Thess. 2:1-3; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 John 2:24; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11; the list of references is almost endless).
One of the main factors in the unquestioning acceptance of the Toronto Experience is that we believers simply do not realise we are capable of being deceived, and that not everything supernatural necessarily comes from God, despite many cases in Scripture where supernatural happenings originate in the occult (see, for example, Exodus. 7:11-12; Acts 8:9-11; Acts 16:16-18; Rev. 13:1-3, 11-15).
Nicky Gumbel points out in this talk that occult activity "always comes under the guise of something good". The Toronto 'Blessing' is seen as "something good". How strange then that neither he nor anyone else at HTB thought to test the Toronto spirit before accepting it and then passing it on to everyone else .
grounding in essential doctrine, the cultivation of the
Berean spirit (Acts 17:11) and a familiarity with
eschatology are vital in combating deception in these
last days. None of these is experiential. All of them
require application of the mind. All of them have been in
short supply in the Charismatic movement to date.
(C) HOW DOES GOD GUIDE US?
The White Alpha Training Manual, pp46-51, Talk 11
The "Guiding Spirit" and "more unusual ways" of guidance referred to in this talk, especially guidance by angels, need thorough testing against Scripture in todays religious climate in which false prophets and occult spirit guides, masquerading as angels of light, abound.
For millennia, spiritists have been mediums for familiar spirits and divining spirits. Now, as New Agers are regarding themselves as channellers for their spirit guides, so too there is an alarming trend emerging amongst experience-orientated Christians, mainly in America, to talk of their angel guides .
in HTB in Focus, Alpha News, Aug 1995, in which
Jesus is referred to as "a guiding light"
(p14), is just an inkling of what may be to come.
(D) WHY AND HOW SHOULD WE TELL OTHERS?
The White Alpha Training Manual, pp52-57, Talk 12
in Part (II) Power Evangelism above.
(E) DOES GOD HEAL TODAY?
The White Alpha Training Manual, pp58-62, Talk 13
During this talk, Gumbel tells Alpha participants of the visit by John Wimber and some of his helpers to HTB in 1982 to demonstrate Gods power to heal. Gumbel says:
Gumbel says that he still felt "cynical and hostile" until the following evening when he was prayed for:
Bearing in mind that his warning in Talk 10 - about occult activity disguising itself as something good - used healing as an example, it is surprising that Gumbel gives no indication here that he or anyone else attending the meeting tested the phenomena (or those bringing it) to ensure that everything came from the Holy Spirit. Gumbel surely knows that, like healings, words of knowledge and prophecies can also come from an occult source. That they are factual or come to pass does not prove their source is God. They could equally well come from a spirit of divination (see Acts 16:16-19), and if they do, they and the person uttering them must be rejected (see Deut. 13:1-11).
I am not saying that this is necessarily the case here, but everything claiming supernatural origin must be tested, no matter how renowned the person producing them might be. The fact that the "level of faith" rose in response to the accuracy of the words given merely indicates the extent of the gullibility of the congregation, not the source of the words, nor the healings which may have followed.
To hear the prayer "more power" so many years before the TB where, along with "more Lord" it has become a kind of mantra, startled me. With no mention of the name of the Lord Jesus, this American gave Gumbel no indication of whom he was praying to or what sort of "power" he was praying for. Worse still, Gumbel did not ask him. A prayer of that kind is an open invitation to any spirit to do anything it chooses in the life of the recipient.
And, of course, the fruit of the Holy Spirit does not come from "these experiences" but from the daily sanctification by the Holy Spirit through obedience to the Word (John 14:15, 21, 23-26; 15:1-7, 10, 14-15). Once again Alpha participants are not being warned of the very serious dangers of accepting anything and everything from anyone and everyone. So they will walk out of the cocoon of Alpha and straight into the path of the "adversary the devil [who], as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8).
Regarding this talk, Ian Lewis was concerned that:
The White Alpha Training Manual, pp63-68, Talk 14
"The Alpha course is ... adaptable across traditions and denominations ... I know of its use in Catholic ... churches" .
"Adaptable" in what sense exactly? Alphas publications manager advises that, while presentation of the material can be adapted to suit, the content should be followed exactly (he makes particular reference to the weekend dealing with the Holy Spirit in this respect) . If the content of the Course teaches the fundamental historical and theological facts and doctrines of the Christian faith as recorded in Scripture, then, having tested and proved that to be so, any Protestant church using Alpha could follow the Course exactly. But could a Catholic church do that?...
Gumbel teaches, from 2 Timothy 3:16, that the Bible is useful for teaching, correcting, and rebuking - which of course it is:
Protestantism teaches salvation by grace alone through faith alone; but Romanism adds to the cross mans good works and a whole host of other un-biblical doctrines such as purgatory, penance, transubstantiation, indulgences, prayers to/for the dead/saints, papal infallibility, Mariolatry, sacerdotal mediation, etc, etc. So if we "put [Romanism] alongside the Bible" we can see that "its not consistent with the teaching of the New Testament". Romanism falls into the category described by Paul as Judaisers (Phil. 3:2-11), who add to the gospel of Christ the works of men (Gal. 3:1-25; Eph. 2:4-10; Heb. 9:24-10:18). Romanism bears not a little resemblance to the teachings and works of the Pharisees so scathingly denounced by the Lord in Matthew 23:1-28. It is a false religion that will never relinquish a single one of its unscriptural tenets.
Nevertheless, in Section II of this talk, and in Talk 8, Gumbel teaches Alpha participants that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are
But it is precisely on the essentials that Protestants and Catholics do not have unity. That was the whole point of the Protestant Reformation. Every one of the Canons anathematizing Protestant doctrine in the Catholic Council of Trent in the 16th Century still stands. In fact, unscriptural doctrines are still being added to the Roman belief system; for example, the doctrine that Mary is co-redemptress with Christ is a recent addition and is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a "secondary" issue.
Discussing the price of unity in the Church at the end of the 19th century, Bishop Ryle wrote:
Still Gumbel says:
Labelling is a psychological/sociological term. In this inclusivist age in which truth is believed to be relative (note the convenient lack of relativism of that particular truth!) it is used not to define the labellee, but to discredit the labeller. Used in this sense it is as ridiculous to "drop all labels and just regard ourselves [Protestants and Catholics] as Christians" as it would be to refuse to label the jam-pot jam and the marmalade-pot marmalade. A vast number of Catholics have not heard the gospel in their churches and Protestants cannot just assume they are saved.
Adaptability of the Alpha Course to include Catholics, not necessarily to convert them, is referred to in Alpha as unity, and I am concerned that Alpha is helping to undo the Protestant Reformation through the promulgation of Ecumenism disguised as Christian Unity .
(2) Unity and False Doctrine/Teachers
Unity is the keyword of the church growth movement, who would agree with Nicky Gumbel that "a disunited church ... makes it very hard for the world to believe" . Consequently, "on Alpha, never ... criticise ... a Christian leader" .
Yet there are times when failure to "criticise" - or rather to rebuke and correct (2 Tim. 3:16; 4:2-5) - is actually to be disobedient to the Word of God. Although in Talk 5 Gumbel only applied the rebuking and correcting to Christian behaviour, it also applies to false teaching.
We are to test all teachings, prophecies and practices against Scripture and judge whether they are true or false (1 Cor. 2:15;16; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1). Far from swallowing everything we are told, however respected the teacher, believers are to test all that passes for doctrine; to correct and rebuke those in error - for their sake! - (2 Tim. 4:2-5), and to disassociate from those who continue to preach false doctrine (Rom. 16:17,18; 2 John 7-11). The Lord Jesus, as well as Paul and John all publicly named those who publicly opposed the truth (Matt. 23:1-39; Gal. 2:11-14; 2 Tim. 2:14-26; Titus 1:10-14; 3 John 1:9,10, etc [Matt. 18:15-17 applies to private trespasses]), and we must do the same for the sake of those believers following them 46]. Participants of Alpha are not being taught this.
As with JWs, Moonies, and Romanists, so with less obvious heresies and false teachings operating within mainstream Christianity. They are "not consistent with the teaching of the New Testament", and Gumbel is right: "All these heresies, all these cults were around in a very similar form in New Testament times and they [the apostles] dealt with them and the answers are there in the Bible". Today, however, instead of recognising that, just like the (Gnostic) heresies of the 1st Century and the JWs of the 20th century, these groups are preaching "another Jesus, whom we have not preached", we, like the Corinthians to whom Paul was writing here, are welcoming them with open arms.
According to Ephesians 4:3-6, Christian unity comes through our being baptised by one Spirit into "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all". In John 17, the Lord Jesus only prayed for the unity of all believers after He had prayed for the sanctification of His disciples by the truth, which He immediately went on to define - for our benefit, not His Fathers - as Gods Word (v17). Shortly before this, Jesus had told His disciples that one of the works of the Holy Spirit was to guide them into all truth (John 16:13-15). So the Holy Spirit unites believers/churches (John 17:23) through Gods written Word (John 16:13; 17:17). Since He does not contradict Himself, there can therefore only be unity within Biblical truth/sound doctrine; there cannot be unity despite Biblical truth/sound doctrine. Those who do not preach or follow the truth, have broken the unity of the believers .
Unity is also essential to Latter-Rain doctrine, to enable the supposed incarnation of Christ into His physical body (the Church) because He cannot incarnate a divided body, so that the Church may become the Manifest Sons of God. But Latter-Rain is "another gospel" (Gal. 1:6-7) with a twisted eschatology which is insinuating itself into Charismatic Fellowships these days; one of its most successful routes being the Toronto 'Blessing'/Experience .
It is vital that we "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 1:3). If we do not, we may find ourselves - and those new believers whom we have nurtured - part of the Apostate Church. This is very serious. Christian/Church unity is also essential to the New Age goal of global unity. The Apostate church is the thin end of this wedge; the middle of which is religious inclusivism/syncretism; the wide end being the one-world religion under the control of the False Prophet during the reign of the Antichrist and his one-world government (2 Thess. 2:1-8; Rev. 12-13; Rev. 17-18; Dan. 8-9; Matt. 24:4-5,11).
(3) The Parable of the Party
In section IV, Gumbel says the Church, despite being Gods Holy Temple, so often loses "the sense of the presence of God in its midst". He is making reference here to the Sunday meetings or groupings of believers rather than to the entire Church the body of Christ, and he uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to explain that Sunday services should be like a party:
David Noakes writes of his visit to the Toronto Airport Vineyard church:
The Church will celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb when the Lord Jesus returns, but I too find no references to "fun" or "parties" anywhere in Scripture - except in denunciation. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, for example, Paul reminds the Corinthians of Gods anger toward His people Israel in the wilderness because they did not patiently wait for Moses to return from the mountain, but built themselves a golden calf and held a festival; eating, drinking and indulging in revelry (Exodus 32:1-10).
It made no difference to God that the festival was "to the Lord" (v5), or that they had all been freed from Egypt and had all been partakers of the "spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:14). They were still forbidden entrance to the Promised Land.
Pauls point here is to compare the Christian life with the wilderness experience of the people of Israel. We may have left Egypt but we have yet to enter the Promised Land. Until Jesus returns and we attend the marriage feast of the Lamb, there is no place for "parties" or "festivals"; not even "to the Lord". Rather, we are to be "sober, grave, temperate" (Titus 2:1-13), remembering that "true worshippers ... worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24) .
In the last section of this presentation, Gumbel teaches participants that the Church is the Bride of Christ. He asks: "Are we worthy to be the bride?" Cleansed, restored, and forgiven by the blood of Jesus on the cross, Gumbel says the Church is to be "holy and without blemish". She is to be "in love with Jesus ... One of the things weve found in the last few weeks as people have experienced the power of the Spirit ... were falling in love with Jesus Christ".
Well, feelings of being "in love with Jesus" do not make us holy. Experiences of "the power of the Spirit" do not make us holy. Going to "spiritual parties" to get "spiritually drunk" that we may lose control of our minds and bodies is certainly not the way to holiness. Far from it. It is through the renewing of our minds, through self-control, through obedience to the truth and through our hope in Jesus Christ that we are made holy (Rom. 12:1-2; Heb. 12:14-17; 1 Pet. 1:13-2:3).
How true the prophecy uttered in Azusa Street in 1906 has proved to be:
"worthy to be the bride"?
(G) HOW CAN I MAKE THE MOST OF THE REST OF MY LIFE?
The White Alpha Training Manual, pp69-71, Talk 15
I am aware that the title of this talk is designed to appeal to the enthusiasm of new converts to continue along the Christian way, but its similarity to the Word Faith Prosperity/Health and Wealth teaching, which is very much a whats-in-it-for-me-in-this-world? gospel, suggests a way of life that bears no resemblance whatsoever to true discipleship.
However, the content of the session belies its title, focusing on Romans 12:1-21, and reminding participants that as "God did not spare His own Son, so it is just a little thing for us to give our lives to God as a living sacrifice". (Whether participants actually grasp the necessity and ramifications of this is another matter.)
(V) Eschatology and Church History
The basics of Christian discipleship include an eager expectation of, and preparation for, the return of our Lord Jesus (Matt. 24:1-25,46; 1 and 2 Thess.; Rev. 1-22). However, Gods cry for His People Israel in Hosea 4:6-14: "My people are destroyed for [i.e. through] lack of knowledge" applies no less to His Church, as evidenced in the unquestioning acceptance amongst many Christians of every new shepherd, prophet, doctrine or spiritual experience that comes along. If new disciples are to finish the race that they - and we also - have begun (Acts 20:22-24; 1 Cor. 9:24; Gal. 5:7-10; 2 Tim. 4:6-8; Heb. 12:1-3), then at least some instruction in eschatology and relevant elements of Church history (persecutions, heresies, the Reformation) would be useful.
I believe we have a grave responsibility in these spiritually perilous times to ensure that we do not introduce any teaching into our Fellowships which does not accord with the written Word of God. Any system of instruction should be thoroughly tested in the light of Scripture before being used as a basis for teaching. It is worth considering that, if a formulaic course of talks exists that God wants us to use for evangelism, then He would surely have included this in His Word?
I dont think we can compare one sermon, given by a visiting speaker to a Fellowship of believers who are mature enough in the faith to be able to test what is being said and sieve out the dross while holding on to the good, with an entire teaching course of 15 talks given to non-Christians who are completely ignorant of the Word. Also, while we do not know what a visiting preacher will say until he says it, the Alpha videos and training manuals tell us exactly what will be taught. If we run the Course from the videos, we have to use everything that is on them; fast-forwarding the bits we may not agree with is not a practical option. It is also prohibited by HTB anyway.
Nor is it enough to say that any errors can be corrected in discussion groups afterwards. Proverbs 22:6 tells us to "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it". This applies to children in the faith as much as it does to children in age, and it concerns belief no less than behaviour. We would not deliberately teach our children something we knew was wrong with the excuse that we could correct it later, would we? I can't imagine any parent doing that. So if we know some teaching is wrong before we teach it, why teach it? Why not just teach what is right to begin with?
It may only be parts of Alpha’s teaching which do not accord with Scripture, but I would say with Paul that, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Gal. 5:9). Though Paul is talking here of the yeast of the law, the yeast of lawlessness is just as damaging. Ultimately it is not the leaders of Alpha, or anyone else, who will stand responsible before God for the spiritual health of those nurtured in our Fellowships, but we ourselves.
Every Christian, and every Christian Fellowship, is able to witness to the gospel under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It should not be necessary to rely on the methods and techniques of another Fellowship when we have all the instruction and teaching material we need in Scripture, all the experience we need in each of our relationships with the Lord, and each have the capacity to be directed by the Holy Spirit as to how and when to go and do it. The tendency of Church evangelism today is to preach a God of love but not a God of holiness or judgment, and thus to emphasise what we are saved to at the expense of what we are saved from - but this is to re-define the gospel, and we have no right to do this.
It is therefore necessary that, in any evangelistic outreach we undertake, we ensure:
In 1877 Bishop Ryle wrote:
they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine
and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers
1. Mark Elsdon-Dew, CHRISTIAN HERALD, 09:12:1995, p2.
2. Tricia Tillin, Networking: A Global Vision, in MAINSTREAM, Winter 1993, p3.
3. Robert Bowman, Orthodoxy and Heresy: A Guide to Doctrinal Discernment, 1993, p25.
4. HTB in FOCUS: ALPHA NEWS, Aug 1995, p9. See also Wallace Boulton, ed., The Impact of Toronto, 1995, pp20-24.
5. See Richard Smith, Spiritual Drunkenness: Its Causes, Consequences and Cures, audio tape, I.T.S., 1994/22.
6. Nicky Gumbel, The Spirit and Evangelism, in RENEWAL, May 1995, p15.
7. Ed Tarkowski, Laughing Phenomena [sic]: Its History and Possible Effects on the Church, 1995, pp5-6.
8. See Jack Dunnigan, A Shoppers Paradise, in PROPHECY TODAY, Nov/Dec 1994, pp10-11. See also Johannes Facius, Laugh? I Nearly Cried, in PROPHECY TODAY, May/June 1995, pp24-26. See also Intercessors for Britain, Soul or Spirit?, in TORONTO: BLESSING OR BLIGHT? 1995, pp6-7.
9. David Forbes, PROPHECY TODAY, Nov/Dec 1994, p12. This parallel is widely noted; see, for example: David Noakes, Review of Leadership Consultation Held at Bawtry, Jan 1995, (Leadership Consultation on the current situation in the Charismatic churches), audio tape CFCM 95/07, March 1995, side 1.
10. See, for example: Chris Hand, False Fruit, audio tape IFB/192, July 1995, side 1.
11. Clifford Hill, PROPHECY TODAY, Sept/Oct 1994, p12. See also David Noakes, Review of Leadership Consultation, audio tape, CFCM 95/07, March 1995, side 1.
12. See Reachout Trust, Gods of the New Age, video tape, 1988. See also Mick Brown, Unzipper Heaven, Lord, in SUNDAY TELEGRAPH MAGAZINE, Oct 1994, pp26-30, and subsequent interview, What Happened Next? Toronto and the Telegraph Reporter, in EVANGELICALS NOW, Feb 1995, pp1. See also Nader Mikhaiel, Slaying the the Spirit: The Telling Wonder, 2nd edition, 1995. See also Philip Foster, Suggestibility, Hysteria and Hypnosis, 1996.
13. David Noakes, Dealing With Poison in the Pot, audio tape, CFCM 95/04, Jan 1995, side 1].
14. See David Forbes, The Influence of Latter-Rain Teaching on the Charismatic Movement, audio tape CFCM 95/03. See also Tricia Tillin, Restorationism, Toronto and the Latter-Rain, 2 audio tapes, 1994. For teachings of the New Age see Constance Cumbey, The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism, 1983. For comparisons of New Age with Latter-Rain teachings see Ed Tarkowski, Laughing Phenomena, pp25-40.
15. For information on the Kansas City prophets, refer to various audio tapes available from Banner Ministries. For information on the Word Faith movement see, for example, Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis, 1993. Also, various audio tapes available from Banner Ministries.
16. See Intercessors For Britain, Revival or Survival?, 1995.
17. MAINSTREAM, Summer 1994, p8.
18. For other relevant information on the Toronto Blessing see: Clifford Hill, ed., Blessing the Church?, 1995. See also, Stanley Jebb, No Laughing Matter, 1995; see also Leigh Belcham, Toronto: The Baby or the Bathwater?, 1995. See also Bill Randles, Weighed and Found Wanting: Putting the Toronto Blessing Into Context, 1995. See also articles in editions of MAINSTREAM and PROPHECY TODAY. See also various audio tapes available from Banner Ministries.
19. Letter from the Board of Vineyard churches to all Vineyard pastors, Dec 1995.
20. Nicky Gumbel, Telling Others: The Alpha Initiative, p20.
21. Gumbel, Telling Others, pp21-24, 29-31.
22. Dave Hunt, Beyond Seduction: A Return to Biblical Christianity, 1987, pp77-78, 238, 257. See also John Goodwin, Testing the Fruit of the Vineyard, 1990, pp8-15. See also Michael Horton, ed., Power Evangelism, in POWER RELIGION: THE SELLING OUT OF THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH? 1992, pp61-138.
23. Gumbel, Telling Others, p19.
24. David Noakes, Dealing With Poison in the Pot, audio tape, CFCM 95/04, side 1.
25. Ian lewis, The Alpha Course, in EVANGELICALS NOW, Dec 1995.
26. See Wallace Boulton, ed., The Impact of Toronto, 1995, p19. See also Noakes, Poison in the Pot, side 1. See also Johannes Facius, Laugh? I Nearly Cried, in PROPHECY TODAY, May/June 1995, p25.
27. Lewis, Alpha Course, EN, Dec 1995.
28. Gumbel, Telling Others, p19.
29. Gumbel, Telling Others, p120.
30. Gumbel, Telling Others, pp117, 120, 123. See also Blue Alpha Training Manual, p18.
31. Gumbel, Telling Others, pp116-120. See also Blue Alpha Training Manual, p17.
32. See Jesse Penn-Lewis, War on the Saints, 1912, pp47-55. See also Clifford Hill, The Toronto Blessing: True or False?, in PROPHECY TODAY, Sep/Oct 1994, pp11-12.
33. Nicky Gumbel, Interview in RENEWAL, Oct 1995, p16. Also, Gumbel, Telling Others, pp36-37.
34. See, for example: Mike Taylor, The Holy Spirit and the Believer: A Look at the Scriptures, in MAINSTREAM, Spring 1995, pp6,9.
35. See, for example: Bowman, Orthodoxy and Heresy. See also J.C. Ryle, Warnings to the Churches, 1877.
36. During the Leadership Consultation on the current situation in the Charismatic churches, held in January and March 1995 by the Centre for Contemporary Ministry, the following remarks were made concerning the "catch-it-and-pass-it-on" nature of the Toronto Blessing:
In contrast, Nicky Gumbel has said:
The prophet Haggai, however, would seem to warn against this view and show that associations DO matter:
37. See Tricia Tillin, Banner Headlines News Update, BMX22, Dec 1995.
38. Lewis, Alpha Course, EN, Dec 1995.
39. Martin Cavender, quoted in Gumbel, Telling Others.
40. CHRISTIAN HERALD, 09:12:1995.
41. Ryle, Warnings, p128.
42. Nicky Gumbel, Interview in RENEWAL, May 1995, p16.
43. See Stanley Jebb, Reformation, Renewal, Romanism, audio tape. (A warning to Evangelicals / Charismatics about Ecumenism). See also Ryle, WARNINGS. See also M. De Semlyen, All Roads Lead to Rome: The Ecumenical Movement, 1993. See also Dave Hunt, Evangelicals and Catholics, Declaration of Unity: The Gospel Betrayed, in THE BEREAN CALL, May 1994, quoted in MAINSTREAM, Summer 1994, pp10-11. See also Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast: The Roman Catholic Church in the Last Days, 1994, chapters 22-28. See also various audio tapes available from Banner Ministries. See also the March/April 1996 edition of DISCERNMENT (P.O. Box 129, Lapeer, USA), which focuses on Ecumenism / Church unity.
44. Gumbel, Interview in RENEWAL, May 1995, p16.
45. Gumbel, Telling Others, p114. See also this Talk 14, Section II).
46. See Tricia Tillin, Thy Word is Truth, in MAINSTREAM, Winter 1993, p9. See also Bowman, Orthodoxy and Heresy, pp27-32.
47. See Hunt, Beyond Seduction, pp3-4. See also Ryle, Warnings, pp103-107; 110-112; 127-128.
48. See Tricia Tillin, Birth of the Manchild, in MAINSTREAM, Spring 1995, pp1-5 for the eschatology being taught at some Vineyard churches, referred to by John Wimber in his letter to Vineyard pastors, Dec 1995, under the heading Other Concerns.
49. Noakes, Poison in the Pot, side 1.
50. See Stewart Dool, A Table in the Wilderness, audio tape, Dec 1995. See also Yacov Prasch, The Toronto Blessing Is It? Understanding of the Golden Calf, video tape, Moriel Ministries, 1995.
51. Ryle, Warnings, pp13-14.
The following short article comprised an Appendix to the original booklet.
bear in mind, as you read it, that Nicky Gumbel teaches
unbelievers that "the heart of the Christian gospel
The gospel of love... or the Gospel of God?
The book of Acts is the only biblical account of how the apostles preached the gospel. This is important because it is often assumed that the four Gospels and the Epistles are also direct sources of how the gospel message should be preached.
The gospels were written for churches or for people who were already believers, or who had recently believed. They gave information about all that Jesus began to do and to teach... As is generally agreed, the gospel of John is to some extent different in that it was written that you may believe and have life in His name, however the second part of the book (i.e. from Chapter 13 onwards) is intended for the intimate disciples of Jesus.
The Epistles and Revelation were, of course, all written to believers or churches; thus they were not intended as gospel messages.
So only Acts can give any idea of the content of gospel messages preached to unbelievers - both Jew and Gentile.
contained in the book are found in the following
Chapters: Acts 2:14-40 (J), 3:12-26 (J), 7:2-53 (J)*,
10:34-43 (G), 13:16-41 (J), 14:15-17 (G), 17:22-31 (G),
22:2-21* (J), 24:10-21*, and 26:2-29*... where
(J) represents proclamation before a
predominantly Jewish audience and (G)
represents proclamation before a predominantly Gentile
audience. Those marked with a * represent
legal defences before a court.
What is conspicuous by its absence is any mention of the Love of God in these sermons. In fact the word 'love' does not occur in Acts!
This is almost a complete reversal of current trends in gospel preaching. These days God loves you is more or less where people start! Here sadly is the bad news: that is not the gospel! Sinners are under Wrath. Yes, they are loved by God, but unless they repent and turn to Christ, they remain under Wrath - they will not know that God loves them, indeed they cannot know. Therefore telling them that 'God loves them anyway will lead either to pride (I am worth something!) or dismissal, who cares! Frankly, the last thing that middle-class Westerners need to hear is that God loves them! Rather, the reverse is true; that God demands their repentance, for then and only then can they discover that God really does love them.
Even in the gospels, Jesus does not tell sinners that He loves them. (He befriended them, but that is action, not a matter of words.) One interesting example of this point is found in Mark 10:17ff; the story of the rich young ruler. In v21 we readers are specifically told that Jesus loved him. But Jesus never tells him that! When the man goes away sorrowfully, Jesus does not shout out after him, "I love you!"
It is intriguing to note that all other references to love in the gospels are not part of proclamation. (Look them up in the concordance!) Even in the gospel of John, references to the love of God occur very rarely in the record of Jesus public ministry; and the majority of these are from Chapter 13 onward, when Jesus is with the twelve disciples.
Earlier references are: John 3:16 (which is either Johns commentary or part of a one-to-one conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, and not therefore public proclamation), John 5:42, John 11:5, 13, 36, and John 12:43. None of these references is directly connected to the message proclaimed.
The Prodigal Son and The Lost Sheep
What then of the stories of the Prodigal Son and the Lost Sheep? Both have been used as gospel parables, and in a sense they are. However, the context - particularly in the case of the prodigal son - is often not recognised. He is, after all a prodigal son. In other words, he has a Father before he leaves! This is not true of a Gentile sinner (such as most of us are). We do not start off with God as our Father, wander away, and then get welcomed back! Jesus ministry was primarily to the children, the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24 and Mark 6:27, compare also Gal. 2:15). These stories were addressed to Jewish people and were about coming back to God as their Father. We can use them as part of the gospel message, but they are not the main message for Gentiles who are not children of God except by adoption through the cross of Christ.
I have very serious concerns that we evangelicals/charismatics are preaching another gospel, the gospel of love, rather than the gospel of repent and believe - which is the gospel of God.
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