What’s it all about, Alpha?

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by Terry Camsey, Major – 

by Major Terry CamseyIt’s been quite hectic of late with one set of visitors after another!

One of the joys was to have my two sisters visit from the United Kingdom. I have three sisters, one slightly older, one three years younger and one ten years younger. (I recall as a child that my dad used to call the youngest his “little war bonus”!)

Pat (the youngest) was telling me about her son-in-law who has recently been baptized. He told her that—in the time leading up to that significant event—he couldn’t understand why the minister was preaching directly to him, week after week.

As she spoke, I was reminded of something that former National Commander Commissioner Andy Miller said at a camp meeting in Northern California, many years ago. He was talking about the fact that the words a preacher utters mean different things to different people. What caught my attention especially was his comment that this is a form of “speaking in tongues” and, I guess, he was right on target.

But, back to the story…

My nephew-in-law had come to a decision to accept Christ based on his participation in an Alpha course run by the church.

For those who are not familiar with this course, I can tell you that it has been running for over twenty years. Its value as an evangelical tool has, however, only become apparent since 1993 when the course was reworked by Nicky Gumbel to become a practical introduction to the Christian faith for both non-churchgoers and new Christians.

It is all friendship-based. There’s no knocking on doors, there’s little advertising, but it’s friends bringing friends. Mostly the courses run are evening ones and include a light meal, followed by a talk on a subject central to the Christian faith, which is then discussed in small groups where each person is free to ask or express whatever they wish.

During the course there is a weekend emphasis on the Holy Spirit. It was my pleasure, when stationed in England, to visit a corps the week following their “Holy Spirit Weekend.” I couldn’t believe the enthusiasm of those who had attended. I have to tell you that this was no “holy roller” corps, far from it. It was as traditionally Army as you could possibly imagine. But the Spirit had powerfully visited those on the Alpha Course. One local officer told me that she had been on the phone until 3:00 a.m. sharing her experience and urging others to join a course and experience the power of the Spirit for themselves.

The course in the UK was also a vehicle that attracted back hosts of former Salvationists who had left the ranks primarily because they did not feel they had been spiritually fed.

If we are honest with ourselves, what we seriously lack is a discipling track that builds our people’s spiritual depth from the cradle to the grave. There is no consistency either of curriculum or material used. Whatever takes the fancy of the teacher from the shelves of the local Bible bookstore seems to suffice.

Yet, is it not only possible, but also desirable, to develop such a track, working backwards from what “product” we want to see and using suitable material that builds disciples “brick-by-brick?” Wouldn’t it be beneficial to be able to monitor people enrolled on that track so that—even when transferring to another corps—they might carry on seamlessly from where they left off at the previous corps?

Alpha would, of course, only be one element of the teaching…but a valuable initial primer since it gives such a solid foundation and allows for discussion of points, not only raised by non-churchgoers and new Christians…but also by Salvationists of long standing who have never had a forum in which to discuss such issues.

What’s it all about?


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