The Alpha Course, and Sin
Alpha and sin.
Nicky Gumbel, present leader of the popular Alpha course, feels that it would be unfair for God to punish someone else for our sins. So he reminds us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” and categorically states that God did not punish someone else. He punished Himself. He took the whole burden on His own shoulders.
No one can argue that the mystery of the Trinity allows for Nicky’s thoughts. What he says is true, but it is not the whole truth. The rest of the story is found in Isaiah 53, where we see a experiencing servant, that we have come to know as Jesus, the Son, bearing our iniquities. Jesus as God, if you please, but Jesus the Son of Man also. We call this doctrine the “substitutionary atonement,” and it is not negotiable. God made His Son, the Christ, to be sin for us. The whole scenario of the perfect Lamb, the vicarious sacrifice (let no man today use the title “Vicar.”) He -Jesus- became sin for us who knew no sin. How could such passages be totally overlooked and their meaning labeled “unfair?”
It was just and fair in the sight of Heaven to the point that to this day, God is “faithful and just” to forgive us our sins because of what Jesus, the innocent substitute, did for us, in our place.
Alpha/Gumbel seem to deal with sin from the human perspective, not God’s. Nothing of God’s holiness and wrath are mentioned. Again, it seems that the creators of the course are afraid to offend and scare away. Jesus had no such reservations.
I find no call to heartfelt repentance, as Jesus and John the Baptist always taught first.
The sinfulness of sin and the holiness to which we are called is absent or at the minimum very light. The fear of God, which should come first, making grace truly “amazing”, is not promoted at all.
The people are told to pray for salvation silently, vs the heart-wrenching scenes you will find in the Book of Acts. I have ministered in prison situations, where desperate men call out to God unashamedly, and God hears.
I realize that it is not Alpha alone that must bear such a criticism. The Western church has for many decades entered into a formulaic response to the Gospel. Evangelicals have little to claim beyond Romanists at invitation time. Just raise your hand. Just believe in Jesus. Just know that you are already accepted. Just sign this card. Just come down to the front. Just pray. Just find a good church.
Where are those who agonize in prayer, knowing of their absolutely lost condition, hanging over the fires of Hell by a thread because of an angry God? Jonathan Edwards did not think that idea into existence. He read his Bible from cover to cover and saw the violence visited on the ungodly in chapter after chapter.
Today we find that “God is in a good mood.” “He just loves you so much… ” Hence, no one feels the need to repent. Alpha falls into that trap handily.
An example of Alpha’s downplaying of sin is his response to masturbation. (Pamphlet,”Is There Anything Wrong With Sex Before Marriage?”)
Though his answer to the pamphlet title is admirable, he is speaking of course of that which we have defined as sex, or fornication/adultery. Jesus did not define sexual sin this way, but let us know that this sin begins in the mind. The lingering look, the desire, certainly a manifestation as physical as masturbation, is all included in sin. And sin at any level is serious. Here we must part company with Luther (and today’s Dobson, plus a large number of others) who called manual sex a “puppy sin.”
Martin Luther, ingemination, lived most of his life a member of the Roman Catholic Church. He imbibed their whole categorization processing of sins into “venial” and “mortal.” Some sins, so the time of action declares, are simply not that serious.
But sin must be seen as serious at every level, and never invited in. If the young man is told not to worry about this sin, will he also be promoted to “wink” at sleeping with his intended? The logic is nevertheless there. Young hormones are strong. Need to test the relationship physically to be sure. And so on and on we justify everything we do.
I do not say that Gumbel and Alpha totally miss the mark in the sin area. “The bad things we do that mess up our lives” are mentioned. People are warned. Some get it, and take it to the next level. But it seems to me there is a more direct method. Of course the crowds will decrease. But ingemination that Jesus’ crowds were amassed by the strength of God, not by lightening the Message. Compromise is a bad idea in any generation.