Promise Keepers (an update) – Part 2

(January 1995 – Volume 1, Issue 3) 

Within our last paper we pinpointed several areas in which we find agreement with the Promise Keepers’ movement. In our remaining studies on Promise Keepers we will examine our areas of concern.

Author Thomas Hardy said that he had a friend who could go into any beautiful meadow and immediately find a manure pile (The Master’s Plan for the Church, p22). We do not want to be like Hardy’s friend. It is not our desire to nit pick, nor do we want to ignore something of great value while concentrating on the few problem areas. We want others to be fair and gracious with us, so we, in turn, strive to do the same — understanding full well that even the best of ministries are imperfect.

Having said all of this, we nevertheless, have deep concerns about Promise Keepers. We are not searching for small piles of manure in an otherwise beautiful meadow. Rather, there is a strong stench emanating from the Promise Keepers’ meadow, and it is time to find out from where the smell is coming.


Let us begin with an issue that is very dear to the Promise Keepers’ movement. In fact, it could be argued that ecumenicalism is central to, possibly even the very heart of, Promise Keepers. However, before we detail Promise Keepers’ ecumenical agenda, we should first define ecumenicalism and place it under the light of Scripture.

Ecumenicalism means different things to different people. The broad definition includes the attempt to unite all religions under the same banner. The Parliament on World Religions, held in Chicago in 1994, is a good example. Broad ecumenicalism then is the attempt to break down the barriers that separate world religions so that cooperative efforts can be undertaken.

To others, ecumenicalism has a narrower definition, that is, to simply unite all “Christian” denominations under one umbrella. The efforts of the National Council of Churches stands out, because this organization has attempted for many years to break down the barriers that separate Christian churches and denominations. Here the one common denominator is the person of Christ. Due to wide diversity of opinions, no other doctrinal distinctive would be possible. Even the person and work of Jesus is up for grabs — defined, not by Scripture, but by personal opinion.

Promise Keepers fits a more narrow definition yet. They, and others in their ecumenical camp, hold forth several doctrinal essentials. Indeed, Promise Keepers claims in print that it does not promote unity at the expense of sound doctrine. The “essential doctrines,” which they claim to uphold without compromise are: The inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, substitutionary atonement, Christ’s bodily resurrection, and the need for regeneration and salvation by faith. Their brand of ecumenicalism then, is to unite all Christians around these essential doctrines. All other doctrinal distinctives are considered barriers to unity and must be discarded, or at least greatly minimized.

A Defense for Biblical Separation

At this point we need to pause and discuss whether, and over what issues, Scripture calls for believers to separate from other believers. We will be the first to admit that the doctrine of biblical separation has never been loved by many, is often misunderstood, and is frequently abused. Nevertheless, it is a clear teaching of Scripture and thus must be obeyed by God’s people.

In addition to teaching that the believer must not be bound together with unbelievers in compromising situations (II Cor. 6:14-18), the New Testament also teaches separation from Christians who are under church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20); those living in unrepentant open sin (I Cor. 5: 10,11); those who are repeatedly divisive in the church (Titus 3:10); and those who teach doctrinal heresy (I Tim. 1:20). It is this last issue that concerns us in relation to Promise Keepers.

Promise Keepers wants us to ignore doctrinal differences, and unite with men of various beliefs. The fifth promise says, “A Promise Keeper is committed to reach beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity” (emphasis ours). Doctrinal disunity is ranked and equated with racism — a terrible and unbiblical accusation! The question is, “Are we to ignore any and every doctrinal difference for the sake of unity?” Let’s look at what Scripture says:

We are to shun those who teach heresy (II Tim. 3:1-9).

We are to avoid the teaching of those who twist the Scriptures with worthless “chatter” (nonsense teachings) (I Tim. 6:20; II Tim. 2:16-18).

We are to rebuke and silence those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9-14).

We are to turn away from those who cause problems which result from not following scriptural teachings (Rom. 16:17,18).

We are to have nothing to do with worldly fables that contradict sound doctrine (I Tim. 4:6,7).

We are not to receive (fellowship with, support) anyone who rejects the essential biblical teachings (II John 9-11).

We are to strongly oppose any who preach an unbiblical gospel (Gal. 1:8,9).

All true biblical unity is wrapped around biblical truth (John 17:17).

Remember, the most unified religious movement of all times will be the united worship of the world at the feet of the Antichrist (Rev.13:11-18).

“Unity at the expense of God’s Word is not true unity; unity at the expense of God’s character is not holy unity. Unity at any level that pleases God and advances His kingdom will not be at the expense of His Word or character. The oneness Jesus prayed for in John 17 will not compromise truth and righteousness” (Richard Mayhue,Voice, March/April 1993, p9).

“Underneath the hoop, holler and hype of the Promise Keepers’ movement is an ecumenicalism that smacks of the last days spoken of in Scripture, rather than what some have called the ‘greatest movement of God since Pentecost'” (Psychoheresy Awareness Letter, Sept/Oct. 1995, p2).

Promise Keepers’ Ecumenical Agenda

While we will affirm that disagreement over some doctrinal issues should not be a cause for the breaking of fellowship (e.g. modes of baptism, church polity, many eschatological issues), nevertheless we do have three major concerns with Promise Keepers’ ecumenical view:

First of all, are there not some “essential” doctrines that are being left out? Are the doctrines related to the Trinity and the nature of God, the deity and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the two natures of Christ, eternal destiny of mankind, the sinful nature of mankind, the believer’s relationship to the Law, the origin of the universe, eternal security, sanctification, the church, and the priesthood of the believer, unimportant? Can they be disregarded as nonessential for the believer attempting to walk with God today?

Second, even with the doctrines that Promise Keepers declares non-negotiable, there seems to be problems. How is it possible that liberals, fundamentalists, evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Mormons, and Roman Catholics, all seem comfortable with Promise Keepers and its supposed doctrinal base?

Mormons do not believe in the deity of Christ; Catholics do not believe in justification by faith alone; Pentecostal/charismatics play loose with the Scriptures; and liberals don’t accept any of Promise Keepers’ essentials. Yet, they all are attending Promise Keepers’ conferences and some have even moved into leadership positions.

It is one thing to write a doctrinal statement, it is quite another to adhere to it. Many liberal denominations (e.g. many liberal Presbyterians) have rather good doctrinal creeds, but have abandoned them in practice. This appears to be the road down which Promise Keepers is headed.

In addition, we would suggest that Promise Keepers takes a weak stand, even with the doctrines mentioned as “essential.” For example, they espouse the inspiration of Scripture, but do they believe in the inerrancy, the infallibility, the authority, or the sufficiency of Scripture? Most cults will claim to believe in the inspiration of Scripture, but will add their own writings or twists to it. Promise Keepers leaves their statements open to fit the interpretation of almost anyone.

The third concern, which is at least as important as our first two, is that the whole thrust of Promise Keepers is anti-doctrine (at least this is their rhetoric). Theology is of very little significance to Promise Keepers, instead it is a “relationship with Jesus” that matters. Life, not doctrine is paramount, but there is no spiritual life without truth, and there is no relationship with Christ unless it is grounded in the Word. Christ and His truth cannot be separated!

Promise Keepers is on a mission to minimize the importance of biblical truth in the lives of God’s people. Why? Because doctrine is divisive.

The two theme songs at the 1996 Clergy Conference were, “Let the Walls Come Down,” and “Yes, We All Agree.” Pastors and laymen are being sent home from every stadium conference with the message that truth divides. Therefore, we must minimize truth and major on Christ and unity. This strategy is disastrous. It will lead to the same place that all other such movements have lead — to an insipid liberalism that clings to a slogan but has lost the person and power of Christ.

By the way, with all of Promise Keepers down playing of doctrine, it is ironic that they very clearly have a doctrinal base. Every organization teaches something, and we will see what Promise Keepers teaches in future studies.

Trying to untangle what Promise Keepers says and what it does is confusing. “On the one hand, Promise Keepers has affirmed the fundamentals of the faith, but on the other hand, they have stated that we must overcome denominational barriers — barriers which were created by a denial of these fundamentals” (Beyond Promises, p239).

Just why do denominational barriers exist anyway? Mostly for doctrinal reasons. David W. Cloud says it well, “Why, for example, is an Episcopal church different than an Independent Baptist church, generally speaking? Different doctrine. One teaches baptismal regeneration; the other teaches baptism is symbolic only. One baptizes infants; the other practices believer’s baptism. . . One has a priesthood; the other has pastors and deacons. . . .One interprets prophecy literally and is looking for the imminent return of Jesus Christ; the other interprets prophecy symbolically and is working to establish the kingdom of God on earth. One allows its leaders and members to hold every sort of heresy and immorality; the other practices discipline and separation” (The Christian News, Dec. 30, 1996, p9).

Is it wise or profitable to break down such barriers? A Promise Keeper promises to reach beyond any denominational barrier, and sings songs about breaking down the walls. He may even meet with a small group, on the local level, of denominationally diverse men — promising not to discuss doctrine (which divides).

Any who would challenge such unbiblical activity are usually branded as divisive, of course, but just who truly is divisive, “Those who teach false doctrine as gospel truth or those who correct false gospel with gospel truth” (Beyond Promises, p241)? Besides desiring to break down denominational barriers, how directly involved with ecumenical compromise is the Promise Keepers movement? Note some examples:

MORMONS: The L.A. Times (5/5/96) claims that, “The Promise Keepers promises have attracted interest from Catholics and Mormons as well in the Los Angeles area.” A Mormon leader, Chip Rawlings, said that because of Promise Keepers’ interdenominational approach, “Fellow Mormon leaders of the Palos Verders Stake, or group of congregations, are urging members of the Latter-Day Saints to participate in the movement.” He claimed that the Promise Keepers’, “Seven promises are like the men’s priesthood manual for the church.”

In all fairness to Promise Keepers, they officially renounce the teachings of the Morman church (see New Man, Vol. 3 #7, Oct. 1996, pp40ff). Yet, inexplicably, Mormon men are feeling comfortable at Promise Keepers’ rallies. Why? Could it be that nothing is being said that offends their beliefs?

ROMAN CATHOLICS: Promise Keepers has made a practicing Roman Catholic (Steve Jenkins) a field ministry representative for Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. In July of 1995, a Promise Keepers’ men’s ministry leadership seminar was held in Steubenville, Ohio at Catholic Franciscan University. Six hundred and forty Catholic men attended this, and the conference was closed with a Catholic Mass.

Richard Gregory, National Executive Director of the IFCA, in the May/June 1996 issue of Voice (p8,9) stated that he was informed by Promise Keepers leadership that Roman Catholic priests were being considered as speakers in upcoming Promise Keepers Meetings. However, such priests would have to sign the statement of core beliefs. Gregory then asked (in a subsequent letter) how a Roman Catholic priest could break his ordination vow – part of which pronounces an anathema on those who teach salvation by faith alone (sola fide) — and still be considered a promise keeper? This is a good question, which has apparently received no clear answer.

Promise Keepers places strong emphasis on returning men to their own churches — even if they are Roman Catholic or Mormon!

Jack Hayford, in Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper says, “Whether your tradition celebrates it as Communion, Eucharist, the Mass, or the Lord’s Supper, we are all called to this centerpiece of Christian worship” (p19).

This is a good example of how Promise Keepers ignores or “breaks down barriers” between denominations. There is indeed a great difference between celebrating the Lord’s Supper and celebrating the Mass. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial dedicated to remembering the death, resurrection and coming again of our Savior, and has nothing to do with our salvation. The Mass is the repeated sacrifice of Christ for our sins — this is a “sacrament,” and is thus deemed necessary for our salvation. The Lord’s Supper and the Mass are not the same thing and the barrier between them (and all they stand for) cannot to be discarded by the true believer.

Ages ago, the Church Father, Irenaeus warned, “Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself” (The Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol.7#1, p49).

As someone has noted, “You can have a limited fellowship, or you will have a limited message.” However, you can only have one. The Scriptures would condone unity, but only unity based on truth — any other unity is counterfeit.


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