Promise Keepers (an update) – Part 3

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(April 1997 – Volume 3, Issue 3) 

Progressive Sanctification

In our first paper on the Promise Keepers’ movement, we examined the areas in which we believe that Promise Keepers are doing a good job.Then, in our last paper, we began to point out some areas of concern, the first of which is Promise Keepers’ ecumenical nature.

The leaders of Promise Keepers either do not understand, or have purposely chosen to ignore the biblical doctrine of separation.As we have seen, the Scriptures clearly teach that the child of God is to note those who teach error, refute them, reject them, remove them, and stay away from them — depending on the circumstances.

We are not to cozy up to false teachers, yet Promise Keepers has chosen to disobey this crystalline teaching of the Word of God and invite those who believe in rank heresy to join them. There would be no complaint if it was the agenda of Promise Keepers to invite such people in order to evangelize them, or to correct their false doctrines with the truth of Scripture. Unfortunately, one of the marks of this movement is that you can be a Promise Keeper and keep your errant views.As a matter of fact, they have promised to accept you no matter what you believe (promise #5).In addition, many who should be admonished are instead being drawn into leadership positions.

One might argue, “At least men are growing in Christ. Testimonies flow of men who have gone to Promise Keepers’ rallies and returned home as better husbands, fathers and Christians.How can we knock a ministry that has accomplished so much good — that is drawing thousands of men to a closer walk with God?”To this thought we must give a two-fold answer:

Pragmatism is never the criterion by which we discern right from wrong — only the Word of God occupies that position.For example, by the standard of pragmatism the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult must be of God.It is one of the fastest growing”churches” in the world.It must be blest of God — right?No, none of us would agree because the Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot stand the test of Scripture. Therefore, everything must be judged by the Bible, not by pragmatism.

Next, and this brings us to the heart of this paper, we have deep and genuine questions about the supposed Christian growth and maturity taking place in Promise Keepers’ members.As we deal with this subject, let’s do so by first taking a look at how Promise Keepers is attempting to develop maturity in its followers. Secondly, we will turn to the Scriptures for its teaching on the subject. While doing this, we will attempt to compare and contrast the two throughout the course of the paper.

How Does Promise Keepers Promote Growth?

Promise Keepers claims that its mission is,”To promote spiritual revival in the homes, churches and communities of this nation. This will be accomplished by modeling, praying for, and instructing all men to grow in Christ-like masculinity; enabling them to become ‘promise keepers’ to the Lord who loves them, to their wives who trust them, and their children who need them, and to the world which must be influenced by them”(Men of Action, Spring 1992).

While we would prefer a stronger emphasis upon living for the glory of God, and while we are concerned with the whole idea of making “promise keeping” our goal (as we will see in a moment), we appreciate Promise Keepers’ desire to call and equip men to become Christ-like.The issue is how Promise Keepers intends to accomplish its goals.What is its strategy, what is its methodology? This is the point at which we find much that is out of line with Scripture.

Promise Keepers teaches that we grow by:

Becoming Keepers of the seven promises —

Bill McCartney says: We start by committing our lives to Jesus Christ and becoming a new creation (II Cor. 5:17).Then we make the kinds of commitments to growth embodied in the seven promises covered in this book(Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper pp 206, 207).

Randy Phillip writes:

[These promises] are meant to guide us toward the life of Christ and to transform us within so that we might see transformation in our homes, among our friends, in our churches, and, ultimately in our nation (Ibid p9) (emphasis ours).

This may very well be the most overlooked fly in the Promise Keepers’ ointment.Of all the promises and instructions in the Word of God, why are these seven chosen?Is there any Scripture that lines up these seven promises as the means of sanctification?Are we not to adhere to all of the biblical teachings as we march toward maturity, rather than just these few?

Even more basic than all of the above questions is the fact that Promise Keepers’ primary method of growth (the keeping of promises) is legalism, pure and simple. Legalism is the teaching that the keeping of certain rules and laws will transform lives. Scripture is clear that this is not true.

The book, Beyond Promises says it well:

By so teaching, Promise Keepers has claimed something for the seven promises not even the ten commandments can do.Not even the ‘holy and righteous and good’ moral law of God as summarized by the ten commandments can transform our lives (Rom. 7:12).Among other things, the moral law was given by God to convict us of our inability to keep it perfectly,in order to drive us to Christ as the only One who ever kept it perfectly for us (Rom. 7:7;Gal. 3:23-25).And even after driving us to Christ,the moral law of God does not transform us in our Christian life. It does not and cannot make us righteous.It only provides a pattern of righteousness for us (I John 3:4). . . . The moral law is that standard.But never does the law transform us. . . . If the ten commandments cannot transform us, how can the seven promises?Paul teaches that what the law was powerless to do, God did by sending us His Son (Rom. 8:3). . . . We do not begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh (Gal. 3:1-3)(pp39-41).

It should not be forgotten that unregenerate Paul, Nicodemus, the rich young ruler and others, were promise keepers.They, however, did not know God, nor were their lives changed by keeping promises.The power of God is what transformed them (II Cor. 5:17).This is the transformation which gives us the desire to obey God, but obeying laws or keeping promises cannot transform us.

While we are dealing with the promises themselves, we should point out another problem.In order to be a promise keeper we must eliminate the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).In that sermon Jesus discussed the teachings of some of the great promise keepers of His time — the Pharisees.By reducing the commandments of God down to external rules, they were able to keep those rules to such an extent that they were self-righteous.Yet, when Jesus moved beyond the external and challenged their hearts, the Pharisees realized that they could not keep God’s Law.What man has ever promised to never lust — and has perfectly kept that promise???

We Grow As A Result Of Attending Enthusiastic Pep Rallies —

This concept is never stated in so many words (as far as we know), but it is the obvious view of the leadership of Promise Keepers.Bill McCartney, the founder of Promise Keepers, is not a theologian, nor a pastor, he is not even a Bible student.His religious background consists of Roman Catholicism and the Vineyard church.

McCartney has spent a good part of his life coaching football, and he was a good coach, as he proved by leading the University of Colorado to a National championship. McCartney definitely knows how to ignite athletes through the use of hype, pep rallies and motivational speeches.That he has carried over the same methodology to Promise Keepers is evident everywhere one looks — from the football stadiums in which the conferences are held, to the cheers for Jesus, “the wave,” the enthusiastically empty motivational speeches; to the vendors selling Promise Keepers’ T-shirts and ball caps, everything smacks of football!

One individual gave this description of a Promise Keepers’ conference:

Balloons, gliders and beach balls are batted around. Blaring rock music pounds to increase the hype. Entire sections of the stadiums stand to challenge the other sides with chants of, ‘We love Jesus, yes we do!We love Jesus, how about you?’They do the wave and commit themselves to God, family and racial reconciliation.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution(6/27/95; pB10) said:

Promise Keepers combines the Jesus saves preaching of Billy Graham with the male bonding message of Robert Bly, the call for racial conciliation of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the marital advice of Ann Landers. . . . it (the 6/95 Promise Keepers’ rally in the Houston astrodome) had men roaring and applauding Jesus as if he had just scored a touchdown(reported in BDM journal).

This is undoubtedly great fun. There is no dispute that emotions are running high and that men are enthused about something, and that something they believe to be God.We question however, whether the methods that create great athletes and enthusiastic football crowds, can be carried over to making great Christians?More importantly, are such methods biblical — are they the methods that God prescribes in His Word?

The answer to both of the above questions is no. Entertainment, enthusiasm, hype, etc. are easily mistaken for worship and commitment to Christ.Too often a mood has been created, but true worship has not taken place.Also, as we will see later, God does not teach such methods of progressive sanctification.”The whole history of revivalism is the history of one sweeping emotional sect movement after another. After the hype wears out, people go back to doing what they were doing before and very often, cynical about the whole thing”(Beyond Promises p214).

Small Group Sharing Without Doctrine —

The leadership of Promise Keepers is wise enough to understand that the enthusiasm generated at the stadium rallies must be reinforced if it is to last. In order to do that Promise Keepers has scores of mini-rallies (Wake Up Calls) throughout the country every year.

In addition, they encourage all Promise Keepers to join a local small Promise Keepers’ study group, composed of racial and denominationally diverse men.At the Bible studies, men are to share their lives, hold one another accountable, study Promise Keepers’ materials and help one another grow in Christ.

Although all of this sounds good, there is a problem.In order to maintain denominational diversity, it is necessary that doctrine (i.e. biblical truth) be eliminated from study and discussion.

Gil Rugh, Pastor of Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, Nebraska states:

There is so much theological diversity among those involved with Promise Keepers that no in-depth discussion of Scripture or what it means to be a Christian could take place without tearing the movement apart.

He is right. When unity becomes more important than truth, truth will be minimized and eliminated.

Of course, it is not true that Promise Keepers does not teach doctrine — such is an impossibility.Even Promise Keepers’ emphasis on avoiding doctrine is a doctrine.They are teaching that truth is unimportant and can be discarded without harm to the Christian life.

The great theologian B. B. Warfield said:

We deceive ourselves if we fancy that because we scout the doctrines of the creeds and assume an attitude of studied indifference to the chief tenets of Christianity we escape teaching a system of belief.Even the extremist doctrinal indifferences, when it ascends the pulpit, becomes necessarily a scheme of faith(The Master’s Seminary Journal Vol.7#2; p248).

And again:

It cannot be a matter of indifference, therefore, what doctrines we preach or whether we preach any doctrines at all. We cannot preach at all without preaching doctrine;and the type of religious life which grows up under our preaching will be determined by the nature of the doctrines which we preach (Ibid p247,8).

Wise words!!! So, the question now is not whether Promise Keepers teaches a doctrine of Christian growth, but whether that doctrine agrees with Scripture.

A writer for The Christian News (9/16/96, p9), in a rather comical (and yes, sarcastic) way, points out the error of Promise Keepers when he writes:

My purpose here is not to debate the issues of the Reformation again but to say that agreement at Promise Keepers can only be based upon Mad Magazine theology as put forth by Dr. Alfred E. Newman:’What, me worry?’Why worry if some say works are required for eternal salvation and others say you can only be saved by grace through faith?Let’s all buy a sweat shirt with a really nifty slogan on it.Why worry if some believe Jesus Christ is God in the flesh or if the flesh of man becomes a god or if a wafer becomes the flesh of God to allow a man to be godly?Let’s all buy a book that talks about Jesus’ sexuality, and phallic spirituality (The Masculine Journey). Why worry if some baptize babies and teach that act makes the child a Christian while others say baptism is only for adult believers to make them a Christian and some teach that baptism does not make anyone a Christian? Let’s all sing praise songs and hold hands. Doctrine, schmoctine. Somebody order pizza!

Scriptural Teaching Concerning Sanctification

What do the Scriptures teach on this important subject?
It’s message can be summarized as follows:

We are not called to be promise keepers in order to be saved.

The gospel message is that Christ died as our substitute because we are unable to be promise keepers (Rom. 8:3,4).It is Christ, not ourselves, who has satisfied the righteous demands of the Law.We are not called to keep the Law (be promise keepers) in order to be saved. Rather, we are called to turn from our sins and place our faith in Christ.

We are not called to be promise keepers in order to grow in Christ.

So, how do we grow in Christ?II Peter 3:17,18 tells us, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness,but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. “We must recognize the fact that we cannot make ourselves grow spiritually any more than we can physically.For example, the high school boy may desire to be seven feet tall, but he cannot will himself to grow!

The same is true spiritually, so what are we to do? Although we cannot make ourselves grow, we can observe certain conditions which promote growth and which are essential to it.

A good illustration might be in the area of one’s health. We cannot make ourselves have good health, however, we can do certain things to promote good health.We can eat and rest and exercise properly.Also, we can follow good medical advice, etc.

What then are we to observe in order to grow in grace and knowledge?Starting with the negative, we might say that we are to avoid everything that is harmful to our growth (II Pet. 3:17).

The majority of Peter’s second epistle is taken up with warnings concerning the errors of “unprincipled men.”We do not need to rehearse these things now, but if we will not take Peter’s warnings seriously, we will not grow.Aswe have seen, Promise Keepers ignores this fact.

Perhaps a person wants good health, so they determine to eat, exercise and rest properly; but they continue to smoke two packs of cigarettes per day and drink a quart of whiskey each night. Quite obviously all of their good efforts are being undermined by their bad ones.

On the same note, some believers will follow all of the disciplines of the Christian life.Yet, they will allow themselves to indulge in certain sins, or certain false teachings and then wonder why they do not grow as believers.

Now moving to the positive, it is tempting to simply highlight the standard disciplines of the Christian life:Bible study, prayer, witnessing, fellowship, worship, church attendance, etc. While each of these should be a vital part of our lives, we do not find any passage where the Bible specifically says, or even implies that most of these are the means of growth.

For example, the Bible never says that we will grow if we pray. Prayer is an important part of the Christian life, but we are never told that it is a means of growth. The same is true of worship, witnessing and fellowship. There is only one discipline that we are actually told specifically contributes to genuine growth in the life of the believer — that is the study and application of the Word of God(refer to Acts 20:32;Heb. 5:11-14;I Pet. 2:2)!

In our search for specific statements on growth, we could have also looked for statements concerning sanctification, since they sometimes mean the same thing. We discover John 17:17, which tells us that we are sanctified by the truth of the Word.It is the Word of God, studied and applied that is used by the Holy Spirit to produce growth. This can be personal study or corporate (Eph. 4:11-16).Either way, the Word teaches that growth is impossible without the study and application of Scripture.

So, we can attend all the worship services we want, watch Christian plays, listen all day to Christian radio, pray until we are hoarse, witness to everyone we meet, fellowship with Christians all day, listen to testimonies and worship God with all of our hearts, and even be a Promise Keeper — still, we will never grow in grace and knowledge unless we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, study and apply the Word of God. Doctrine is absolutely essential! Promise Keepers has greatly erred in this area, having all but eliminated the importance of doctrinal truth from the sanctification equation.

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