CRN has expressed in the past its concern over the ecumenical nature of The Alpha Course, the program that purports to offer a non-confrontational introduction to the Christian faith. Having attracted nearly 19 million guests since 1993, over the years The Alpha Course has greatly grown in popularity among Roman Catholics. Alpha for Catholics began in 1996 and, says Alpha director Nicky Gumbel in a recent article appearing at The Spectator, “we hardly had to change anything when we developed Alpha for Catholics.”
The origins of Alpha for Catholics are readily accessible at Alpha’s own website. Its history is summarized this way:
Alpha first ran in a Catholic context after Cardinal Basil Hume invited Alpha pioneers Nicky Gumbel and Sandy Millar to a lead an Alpha conference in 1996 at Westminster Cathedral. In the years following this conference, Alpha was launched in Catholic parishes across the world. Alpha is now running in the Catholic Church in over 65 countries. Source
Nicky Gumbel, who also is the vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London, often affirms the popularity of Alpha among Roman Catholics, as well as the identical nature of the program across denominations. In a 2012 interview with the Catalyst ministry at Willow Creek Church, Gumbel stated,
Alpha runs in every arm of the Church. It’s growing the fastest in the Catholic church. There are a billion Catholics in the world—many in Latin America, and in France where 99% are Catholic. But the course runs exactly the same no matter the denomination. In Alpha, we stick to the foundational pieces of the Christian faith we all agree upon: Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, the Bible, prayer. What unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us. We focus on what unites us. We present a united front to the world. In every different part of the body of Christ—Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, non-denominational, Catholic, Pentecostals, Bulgarian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox—Alpha crosses all divides. No matter the church, Alpha sticks to the same key ingredients: food, a presentation of the gospel, and talking. The gospel is unchanging. It’s the power of God. The key part of Alpha’s success is the work of the Holy Spirit. We’re still not sure why Alpha works. But it does. Source
In the article, “The Ecumenical Compromise of The Alpha Course,” it was noted that, “CRN has been informed by a leader within Alpha for Catholics that, ‘It is not necessary to change the Alpha course for Catholics.'” Indeed, this reality has been affirmed time again, most recently by Gumbel himself in the aforementioned article found in The Spectator.
Yet, as has been demonstrated at length here at CRN, the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church stand in direct opposition to those of orthodox Christianity. It seems remarkable that The Alpha Course has not had to change its program for Catholics when the Roman Catholic Church in fact anathematized the biblical doctrine of justification at the Council of Trent, which was held from 1545–1563. As one example, Canon 9 as decreed by the Council of Trent reads:
If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema. Source
Contrarily, Scripture teaches that man’s deeds are as filthy rags before the Lord (Isa. 64:6), and that men are saved not by works of their own hands, but by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8–9). This is just one of numerous contradictions that exist between biblical, orthodox Christianity and the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, yet it is a fatal one. Its reality means that Rome stands in opposition to God’s Word, and thus to God Himself.
If, then, The Alpha Course truly teaches the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, that men are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, how is it that it is found to be acceptable by a group that has condemned this same gospel? Further, how is it that a Christian leader, as Gumbel proclaims to be, would send individuals back into the Roman Catholic Church, a group that denies justification by faith alone and thus is by definition apostate? In his interview with Nicky Gumbel, reporter Damian Thompson of The Spectator relates this portion of their conversation:
But doesn’t Holy Trinity sometimes use the Alpha Course to poach Catholics? ‘No! When they do Alpha I [Gumbel] say to them: do not come to HTB but go back to your Catholic parish. It’s part of the Church and I love the whole Church.’ Source
It seems irrefutable, then, that Nicky Gumbel would affirm that an apostate denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, is part of the true Body of Christ. Yet, how can such a group be a part of the true Church when it denies the basic tenets of salvation that offer one entrance into that true Church?
Christians cannot knowingly and willingly walk alongside those who are enemies of the Gospel in supposed gospel efforts. Gumbel’s affirmation of the Roman Catholic Church as part of the true Body of Christ reveals that he either is ignorant of the true gospel, ignorant of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, or is aware of both and yet chooses to ignore and deny the truth in favor of peace and unity. Yet, in the end, Christ cannot have fellowship with Belial (2 Cor. 6:14–15).
There is another anathema worthy of consideration. It is found in God’s Word and was written by the Apostle Paul as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Gal. 1:8–9