I am a big fan of the Alpha Course. I’m sure the Latin Pimpernel and many of our other commentators can’t stand the Alpha Course, but I consider it a wonderful approach to evangelization and to bringing people to experience a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The course began at the Anglican parish of Holy Trinity Brompton, a Canterbury Communion Church that was touched by the Toronto Blessing. Barrister turned Anglican priest Nicky Gumbel’s videotaped courses have gone around the world and have been translated into many languages. There is also Alpha for Catholics. Gumbel has often been invited to the Vatican and was present at the last Synod on New Evangelization.
A Catholic priest friend of mine, Fr. James Mallon, calls the Alpha Course Catholicism 101 and created a follow-up course for Catholics called Catholicism 201 that deals with Catholic teachings on the nature of the Church, on sacraments, on Mary and so on.
The Alpha Course deals with what many would consider Christian essential doctrines. The course is set up around fellowship so there is usually a meal, then the group’s listening to the lecture of the day which might have the engaging Gumbel taking about who is Jesus Christ, Who is the Holy Spirit, What is the Trinity, how one prays, can one believe the Bible, does God heal today, that sort of thing. After the lecture there is supposed to be a freewheeling discussion where group leaders are only there to facilitate discussion, not to teach.
So, in a sense it is an overview of the teachings in the Nicene Creed, with an explanation of the Trinity, the incarnation, Jesus as both God the Son and fully human born of Mary, of the historical and authoritative relevance of Holy Scripture compared with any other ancient texts about historical figures. Alpha does not deal with issues that quickly become contentious such as baptism—can infants be baptized or should only those who have made a commitment to follow Christ be baptized, or whether Christ is truly present in the Eucharist or whether the meal is only symbolic.
What has me thinking about Alpha and essential Christian doctrines are some of the comments over at Fr. Anthony Chadwick’s blog.
Someone wrote that for the Lutherans, reunion with Rome is impossible because of disagreements over indulgences and Purgatory. For Anglicans, it is papal infallibility and the Marian dogmas.
Then came a discussion about women’s ordination and whether it is a first order doctrinal issue or second or third order.
While I think Alpha Courses are on the right track not to teach about Holy Orders and the male-only priesthood in a course meant to draw seekers and Christians in need of renewal into a personal relationship with Christ, I do not think women’s ordination is a second order issue.
It almost seems that when you start to pull on one thread or try to cut it out of Catholic doctrine, you see other threads unraveling and starting to impact those essential teachings such as the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and so on.