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The local Presbyterian Church has a sign outside offering an Alpha Course. I'm sure I've heard of the same course being offered by the Roman Catholic Church. So is the Alpha Course a very general Mere-Christianity-type thing, or is it customised to each denomination, or are the two Alpha courses completely unrelated?

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    You may want to read en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_course Oct 8, 2011 at 0:35
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    I have closed this as too localized as it is impossible to know what your local churches are teaching under this banner, and the general aspect of Apha Courses is general reference. See the doctrine heading of the Wikipedia page for an exact answer to your question, minus knowing what modifications to the general course your local Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches may have made . If there is some other specific aspect to this question, please edit to focus on that, then flag it for a mod. Thanks!
    – Caleb
    Oct 8, 2011 at 14:57
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    The Alpha course is worldwide. It certainly isn't too localized. Oct 11, 2011 at 15:31
  • Indeed. The question is pretty general, but it could easily be answer with a few explanatory paragraphs. I'd give it a shot if this was re-opened. @Caleb - I think this one should not have been closed. Oct 18, 2011 at 11:46
  • @DJClayworth: Did you read my comment? We don't have a "general reference" close reason which is what this really warranted, and the part of the question that wasn't general reference is what I was saying was too localized.
    – Caleb
    Oct 18, 2011 at 12:46

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The UK website for the Alpha Course can be found here. There are others for each country, so use Google to find yours. The Wikipedia entry can also be useful.

The Alpha course is extremely popular across the world and in many denominations. It originated in the Church of England, and it is exactly what you expect - an introduction to the core of Christian belief, Mere Christianity style. It is not specific to Anglican beliefs, and has been used by a huge number of churches of many denominations.

One of the key things about Alpha though is that it is intended to be more than a lecture series. It is key to the course (assuming it is being done properly) that it is done in a discussion framework. The lectures should be followed by a discussion in a small group, to which Christians and seekers are free to contribute. Ideally there should be food as well - the guidelines for running the course recommend it.

The only slightly controversial aspect of the course is that it does teach that the Holy Spirit may give supernatural gifts, such as speaking in tongues, to Christians. It doesn't claim that those gifts are essential, and it doesn't talk about more controversial gifts. Some churches choose to omit those parts of the course.

Some churches choose to modify the course in other ways, but the one you see is unlikely to be a different course. Ask whether it includes lectures by Nicky Gumbel - if so then you are getting the real deal. I would personally make sure that there is an opportunity for discussion as part of the course. In my experience omitting that misses the point.

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  • Oh, I have no intention of actually taking the course. The inevitable rows would be unpleasant ;). I was just curious at seeing apparently the same course offered by such different denominations.
    – TRiG
    Oct 25, 2011 at 12:28
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    In every Alpha course I've been involved with, participation from those with other viewpoints is welcomed, as long a you're not being argumentative or obstructive. Dec 21, 2011 at 22:16
  • I've actually met the Presbyterian minister since. Sat in a pub with him till 2am talking beer geekery, Pratchett, and chemistry. Nice guy.
    – TRiG
    Jun 11, 2012 at 22:42
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Alpha's approach to Christianity involves a distinction between the basic kerygma and subsequent catechesis. In that sense, it is pre-catechetical and a form of mere Christianity. The course is not meant to be a full course understanding of theology, or a full blown moral catechesis that strives to avoid being soft on repentance. Rather, the Alpha Course teaches a very simple understanding of justification and salvation. For example, on the course, we hear:

The wonderful news is that it does not depend on me. It depends on what Jesus has done for me. It depends not on what I do or achieve, but on His work on the cross. What He did on the cross enables Him to give us eternal life as a gift (John 10:28; Romans 6:23b;) We do not earn a gift.

The basic kerygma on the Alpha Course is a rich Gospel imperative - grounded in grace. The attraction of the course is that the kerygma is communicated, in an accurate manner, by the use of attractive words that appeal to the reasoning mind through the use of evidential apologetics (the author Nicky Gumbel, is a former Barrister). That being said, in the final analysis, that ability to choose is in actuality a complete gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Gospel imperative in Alpha is analogous to the call to decision, which Jesus proclaimed to his friend Lazarus. When Lazarus was was resuscitated from death, there was still a call by Jesus to Lazarus to make a decision - even though he was physically dead. Alpha effectively communicates this Gospel imperative, when it states (emphasis added):

There are many ways of speaking about starting the new life…’becoming a Christian,’ ‘giving our lives to Christ,’ ‘receiving Christ,’ ‘inviting Jesus into our lives,’ ‘believing in Him,’ and ‘opening the door to Jesus’ are some of the variations. All of them describe the same reality…Jesus enters our lives by the Holy Spirit, as is pictured in Revelation 3:20. (Questions of Life, page 60)

While some Reformed or Lutheran Christians might be horrified to think that there can be Christians in the Roman Catholic Church, it is clearly a misunderstanding of Lutheran doctrine to be critical of the Alpha Course on that basis. The fact of the matter is that Lutherans have always believed that God can work outside of the Confessional Lutheran church to both create faith as well as to make disciples. For example, the founding president of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, C. F. W. Walther, points out (emphasis added):

True faith has been obtained by people before they join the Lutheran Church. It is a fatal mistake to think that Luther before becoming a Lutheran did not have true faith. Though we esteem our church highly, may this abominable fanatical notion be far from us. That our Lutheran Church is the alone-saving church

...This simple Gospel is found outside of the Lutheran Church….The Roman Church, for instance, still confesses that Christ is the Son of God and that He died on the cross to redeem the world. That is truth sufficient to bring a man to the knowledge of salvation.

Listen! When you have come to the point where you are hungering and thirsting for the grace of God, you have the contrition which you need…A person must not inquire whether his contrition is sufficient for admitting him to Jesus. His very question about his fitness shows that he may come to Jesus…the Word of God is not rightly divided when...it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance… (The Proper Distinction Between Law & Gospel)

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