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“Promise Keepers”

Mixture of Worthy Goals and Anti-Biblical Teaching

“Promise Keepers” is a national men’s movement that is sweeping the country. It is built around some very good ideas about men taking responsibility for family obligations–in particular, exercising spiritual leadership within the home. It began when a former football coach, Bill McCartney, held a rally in 1990 at Colorado University in Pueblo. Men were invited to come and acknowledge their past failings over toward their families, to sing, pray, and dedicate themselves to righteous living by keeping their promises.

Among the promises they make are commitments to “honoring Jesus Christ” through worship and prayer, meeting in small groups with other Promise Keepers, practicing ethical and sexual purity, building stronger marriages and families, supporting their local church and clergy, practicing racial tolerance, and being obedient to God’s commands. Each year since 1990 this movement has become more and more popular nationwide, and has sold millions of dollars worth of books and tapes. In 1996 the rallies drew 1.2 million men to 22 events.

While many of its stated goals are good ones, this organization is also a vehicle for the spread of a different gospel–which is no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-7). We will do well to become familiar with this organization, since it continues to grow by leaps and bounds and will no doubt provide us with an opportunity to bear witness to the truth about the “real” Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners.

Here are some of the reasons why the conscientious Christian will steer clear of this group.

* Lots of laws — no gospel. Although words such as “gospel,” “faith,” and “grace” are used, the “gospel” that is being preached is this: You can be right with God by reforming your life. All kinds of “vows of obedience” and commitments to holiness are made, but what is hidden is the fact that NO ONE can become personally holy enough to satisfy God. Such vows that are not a product of the true Gospel either become vows lightly taken or sources of despair when failure comes. The real Gospel has to do with what JESUS did for US by paying the price for our sins. It is HIS holiness alone that counts with God. The Promise Keepers movement virtually ignores this true Gospel, despite the fact that it is only this Gospel that can motivate a person to practice righteous living that is truly God-pleasing. See Galatians chapter three for the Lord’s admonition about this.

* Strong charismatic element. The organizers and board chairmen of Promise Keepers have many members of charismatic churches among them. The rallies mimic the style of a charismatic revival. What is presented as being an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is actually the product of the minds and emotions of men, while the true vehicle of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word, is ignored in many ways. Like other charismatic movements, the Promise Keepers substitute a person’s own emotions and experiences for faith. That which is seen, felt, and experienced is presented as spiritual reality, rather than what the Lord Jesus experienced, as related in the Bible.

* Doctrinal indifference. The Promise Keepers is an ecumenical movement. It says that differences in teaching between churches are unimportant, thereby belittling something that the Bible clearly warns us about. God says in His Word that ALL of the Bible’s teachings are important, and worth taking a stand on. Romans 16:17 and many other passages warn us not to be religious partners with those who do not teach all the truth of God’s Word. Public worship and prayer without agreement about what the Bible teaches dishonors God.

* Encouragement to support false teachers. One of the promises that a Promise Keeper must make is to honor and pray for his pastor, and to support his local church. This may sound great, until we realize the implications of this. For instance, according to this idea a Unitarian Promise Keeper should support his pastor and church, which teaches that all gods are really one, and there is no such thing as the Trinity. A Roman Catholic Promise Keeper is supposed to be more devoted to the Catholic church, which teaches him that a believer has to pay for his own sins in purgatory. The list goes on. From this we see that the Promise Keepers movement is one of many groups that encourages the worship of a “generic” god, which is really a false idol. God says that we have the responsibility to reject false teaching, using the doctrines of the Bible as our standard.

To sum up, the “Promise Keepers” organization has a lot going for it, but only on the surface of things. There is much to be admired in their outward goals for the personal righteousness of men. However, their message consists of lots of law, very little gospel, and a destructive mingling of both. By contrast, the Bible shows us that our commitment to righteous living is very important, but our relationship with God dare not be defined by our promises to Him. Instead, the center of our spiritual life is about His promises to us in Christ Jesus.

There is every reason to avoid this organization completely, and to reject the false doctrine that hides behind the laudable goals.

— Pastor Bruce Naumann

(prepared for his congregation, Faith of Markesan, Wis.)