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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Protestant pastor is reportedly leading the Alpha program in the Catholic diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. Jad Scott Levi, a pastor at a Protestant church start-up named Trinitas in Phoenix, Arizona, is also Alpha USA senior regional director and will be leading the Catholic evangelization program in the St. Augustine diocese.
Levi's appointment only adds to the growing disappointment and frustration many faithful Catholics are feeling towards the Alpha program.
In recent years, the Alpha program has grown as an evangelization tool and has become one of the leading methods Catholic leaders are using to bring people into the fold. Catholic writers, commentators and officials have criticized the program as essentially not being Catholic.
In an official message to the Marian Catechist Apostolate, Cdl. Raymond Burke, in December 2015, forbade members from ever using Alpha as a tool for teaching or evangelization:
Having studied the program, both from the perspective of doctrine and methodology, I must make it clear that the program may not be used, in any form, in the Marian Catechist Apostolate and that Marian Catechists are not to become involved with it. While, like so many similar programs, Alpha may seem to offer a more attractive and effective form of evangelization and catechesis, it does not have the doctrinal and methodological foundations required for the teaching of the Catholic Faith.
Alpha's Catholic program admits, "Alpha is not meant to bring people all the way to a fullness of the understanding of the Catholic faith. It is after all, Alpha, the beginning. That being said, it is important that we do lead people towards an ongoing journey of conversion after Alpha." Rather, the focus is on having a "personal relationship with Jesus," an idea often touted by Protestants as the heart of the Gospel, wholly apart from any ecclesiastical dimension to the Faith.
The Alpha program was started by Nicky Gumbel in 1990 in the United Kingdom, who is a member of the Church of England. The evangelization program has come under fire for its watered-down emphasis on basic notions concerning Jesus and the Church, its lack of attention towards specific Catholic doctrines, and its evangelical Protestant beginning.
William Cork writes, "Alpha presents a Gospel which is reduced to 'me and Jesus,' and the Church becomes merely a gathering of people who have come to faith in Christ."
Cork goes on:
The Eucharist is presented in reformed terms as a reminder of a past event, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. It is also said to be an anticipation of heaven, a reminder of the unity of the Christians gathered, and a "look up" to Jesus, who is present by His Spirit. Gumbel specifically rejects a sacrificial understanding of Eucharist in his discussion of the priesthood of all believers.
All of these problems with the Alpha program make it unsuitable for the Catholic Church to use, critics argue.
In the official Alpha guide for Catholics, it states, "Alpha is for everyone, but the primary audience is the unchurched, those who are not Christian and have little or no familiarity with Jesus. That being said, we often find many people in our pews who have been sacramentalized without ever having been evangelized."
In response to this, Cork wrote, "We are to aim for a complete Christian initiation, which promotes an authentic following of Christ, focused on his person. It is essential and common but not in the sense of being minimalist; for the General Directory of Catechesis (GDC) this means that we catechize without entering into disputed questions nor transforming itself into a form of theological investigation."