Alpha, Omega, postcript on paradigm change

What I think Alpha wants is to establish a personal relationship with God. OK, it actually wants to establish a personal relationship with Jesus, but as for most Alpha organisers the terms are effectively synonymous, that may not matter.

I wouldn’t be so keen on Alpha if I hadn’t seen it producing such personal relationships, not always but reasonably frequently (incidentally, I think it’s a mistake saying that “if you do this and believe that, then you WILL receive the Holy Spirit” whatever scripture says, because I’ve seen too many cases where it appears that the steps have been assiduously followed and nothing has been felt. Explanations that there is some barrier which could be sin are unhelpful to say the least).

I wouldn’t be so keen on Alpha if I had any “if you do this and believe that then you WILL receive the Holy Spirit” myself either, or even “you are fairly likely to receive the Holy Spirit”, but I haven’t.

I’m working on trust here, though, because I’m well aware of two ways a paradigm change can be produced which do not in my humble opinion produce what is wanted, and the transition in each of these from what is produced to what is wanted is never easy and frequently seems impossible.

The first of these relies on a form of deindividuation; it is common in smallish groups and can produce something remarkably similar in some respects to my own experience (which was determinedly solitary). It can feel for other group members like a movement of the Holy Spirit, and may be such. The trouble is, it makes the person experiencing the paradigm change dependent on the group which initiated it rather than on God/Jesus. This is very fragile should there be any possibility of not feeling accepted by the group in the future, which in my experience usually comes from some disagreement on doctrine which makes them suddenly an “outsider”, though there can be many others including just personal relationships.

The second of these relies on charismatic personal suasion (not persuasion). Again, this can produce something similar. I know this, I’ve (per)suaded people this way myself in the past. It can feel like the Holy Spirit working through you, and that may very well be the case. The trouble with this is that it makes the person experiencing the paradigm change dependent on the (per)suader individually, which is even more dangerous than the first for the reason given and is also dangerous for the (per)suader, as it plays to several base instincts we all share.

I am not ruling out the possibility that the success of Alpha is actually due to one or both of these factors. If that is the case, I just make a note that progress thereafter absolutely must include non-communal spiritual practice and the forswearing of any future “non-inclusion” of the new believer until at least they have detached themselves from dependence on group or individual.

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