Promise Keepers (an update) – Part 6

(August 1997 – Volume 3, Issue 6)

Even though its goals are commendable and its efforts to create godly men are herculean, it would appear that many others, besides ourselves, are uncomfortable with Promise Keepers. We are concerned because of the methods used, the ecumenical nature, the Charismatic influence, the constant psychobabble and Promise Keepers’ legalistic nature. These are grave and important issues that cannot and must not be easily dismissed, either by Promise Keepers or by individual believers. We must ever strive to follow the example of the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11).

Within this paper on the men’s movement known as Promise Keepers, we desire to discuss some final (if somewhat less important) concerns:

The Promise Keepers Small Group System

One of the primary ways that Promise Keepers hopes to reinforce their views and to develop godly men is through the use of small group “Bible” studies, known as “task-forces.” While these task-forces can be composed of men from a single church, Promise Keepers encourages men to meet with those from other denominations and races — in fulfillment of Promise #6which states: “A Promise Keeper is committed to influence his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19,20).” Attempting to keep this promise effectively creates Bible studies that are outside the authority of any local church. “Even if the small groups spawned by Promise Keepers are intended to supplement the ministry of the local church, in practice, they usually end up supplanting it” (Beyond Promises, p215).

Why is this true? Because, “Never are men told in Promise Keepers’ literature to set up a small group under the oversight of the local church. What ends up happening is that the small groups fostered by Promise Keepers end up functioning like pseudo-churches” (Ibid., p217).

Promise Keepers is making an end-run around the churches. They have won the heart and loyalty of thousands of Christian men. Therefore, if the pastors and leaders of local congregations are not supportive of Promise Keepers they risk losing their men to other churches.


The mentoring concept is very closely related to that of the small group. Promise Keepers is dedicated to the idea that men cannot live God-honoring lives unless they are, “Pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs his brothers to help him keep his promises” (Promise #2). This idea is so ingrained in Promise Keepers that E. Glenn Wagner, writing in Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper laments, “Many men do desire to share their deepest feelings — but mostly with a woman they admire rather than another man in a mentoring relationship” (emphasis his) (p58).

There is some fuzzy thinking going on here. Where did we ever get the idea that we are to share our deepest feelings with another man? There is no scriptural mandate for any such a thought! Also, “Where did we ever get the idea that hanging out with the guys necessarily makes us better husbands? Where did we ever get the idea that unless we give other men ‘passports’ to our hearts we cannot become the husbands that God has called us to be? And where did we get the idea that the Bible requires either” (Beyond Promises, p55).

Promise Keepers presuppose that even wives are of little value in men’s spiritual development. Therefore, men are encouraged to find a male mentor, as well as a small group of men that will enable them to be godly.

We assume that Promise Keepers is attempting to pattern their mentoring and vital men relationships after the paradigm of Christ and the apostles. If so, they have spent far too much time reading Carl Rogers and not enough time reading the four Gospels.

For example, Ken Canfield, in New Man, Nov/Dec 1995, Vol. 2 #6, p54, relates the structure of these “manly” relationships and groups, “The first job of men’s small groups is to learn complete acceptance: no judgment, no ‘I told you so,’ or ‘you should have known better.’ No hidden agendas! I’m not out to change you and you’re not out to change me. . . . Complete acceptance, however, will create a safe place where men can really be themselves” (see also Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, pp59ff).

Unconditional acceptance is modern psychobabble, but it is not biblical. Are we not glad that Jesus loved his apostles (and us) in their sins, but he loved them (and us) too much to leave them (and us) there? Are we not thrilled that Jesus did not let His apostles (and us) live and let live? He never says, “I’m okay (although He was) you’re okay.”

The Scriptures tell us to rebuke a sinning brother (Matt. 18:15-20), to restore a fallen brother (Gal. 6:1-4), to even discipline those who refuse to repent (I Cor. 5). How does all of this square with the unconditional acceptance of Promise Keepers?


Vows are serious business with God (Num. 30:2). They should be made only after deep contemplation and complete understanding of what is involved. We believe that Promise Keepers fail on both counts.

Promise Keepers urges men to make promises (or vows) springing from emotional hype at the end of large rallies. We realize that most so-called evangelism follows the same pattern today (taking its cue from Charles Finney) — but this is not the biblical method.

Jesus often sent His followers away contemplating the cost of discipleship. He did not hype them up emotionally then call for a “decision.” Such decisions seldom “stick” as follow-up studies on evangelistic efforts such as “I Found It” and Billy Graham campaigns have shown. Some studies have shown, for instance, that less than three percent of the Billy Graham “converts,” ever join a local church of any kind.

What does God think about men who make vows in the heat of the moment, only to break them shortly thereafter? Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 tells us that it is a sobering thing to our Lord and a discipline situation for the violators. By the way, if vows (promises) are so important for the believer, why is the New Testament virtually silent about them? Why does God not instruct us to make such promises?

Another issue in which Promise Keepers fail is the probability of keeping these promises. Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount that to reduce God’s commandments down to external observances does not fulfill God’s demands. To be faithful to one’s wife is a marvelous thing, but it does not fulfill the command not to commit adultery. Matthew 5:27-28 is clear that to truly obey this injunction one would have to not lust. Keeping the vow not to lust — ever — would surely be impossible for a normal man. Promise Keepers’ must make certain the nature of their promises.

Untrained Leadership

As one man laments, “It remains a mystery what qualifies this man (Bill McCartney) to lead a men’s movement.” The Lord is sovereign in His choice of servants. Therefore, we cannot declare Bill McCartney unqualified to lead in this capacity simply because he lacks certain formal education or training. However, it does give us pause to wonder how a former Roman Catholic with little if any solid Bible training, having never been a member of any biblically based church (he is presently a member of a Vineyard church), suddenly knows exactly what every church and Christian man in America apparently needs to grow in godliness. Where did McCartney gain all this knowledge and insight? He has appointed himself to be the leader of Christian men in this country, but what does he know about the Scriptures or Christian leadership? Those who so blindly follow Promise Keepers should examine these questions seriously.

Could many of the concerns we have with Promise Keepers flow from this initial problem of unqualified and biblically untrained leadership? Only in America with its love of the free spirit and its disdain for roots, could such a man make such an impact on the churches of a country.

Restoring America

This is certainly one of the predominate themes of the Promise Keepers’ movement. “Promise Keepers asserts that men, by walking away from their family duties, are responsible for much of America’s societal dysfunction, and that we can restore the nation by exhorting men to become ‘promise keepers’ instead of promise breakers” (Biblical Discernment Ministries notebook).

This year (1997) Promise Keepers hopes to draw one million men to Washington D.C. to kneel in prayer between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument to seek forgiveness as men ask God to restore America. The theme of restoring America to her former glorious roots is certainly not original with Promise Keepers. As a matter of fact, virtually none of Promise Keepers’ views and methods are original with them, they are mainly reflecting the predominate themes already found in the evangelical community. This explains why few have recognized the errors of the movement and why many are so defensive when those errors are pointed out.

America, say the popular preachers, was founded as a Christian nation. She has been chosen by God to be an instrument for the salvation of the earth. Her great blessings, material prosperity, military strength, and world leadership are evidences of this special calling. They reflect also that America indeed has been a good nation. ‘America is great because America is good,’ they say. . . . Recently, within the last generation, they lament, the glory has departed. America has turned to gross immorality, and so is declining rapidly. It is now almost too late; but we may save America if we act immediately. While these themes are far from new, they recently have gained new life as important components of a political agenda. America is to be brought back to her Christian heritage through political action (The Search for Christian America, p126).

There are some real problems with this popular view of America. First, America is not Israel. Israel was God’s chosen people before Christ came. God ruled directly over the nation as it lived out the Old Testament Law.

  • Since the time of Christ, the church is God’s people. I believe, as a dispensationalist, that God still has a plan for the nation of Israel, distinct from the church — in the future — but during this “church age” no nation, not even America is God’s people.
  • II Chronicles 7:14, which so many attempt to apply to the USA does not apply directly at all! The principles of humility and prayer are center for all ages. Still, God has not promised to heal our (America’s) land if we obey these injunctions.

Secondly, the idea that America was once a great Christian nation is quite simply not true. It is true that the Judeo-Christian values had great influence on our society; but it is also true that Deism, the Enlightenment and humanistic philosophy had great influence as well!

  • Most of our founding fathers were religious — but not Christians. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution make virtually no mention of God and are based not on the Christian’s Bible, rather on the Enlightenment’s “self-evident” truths or “laws of nature and nature’s god.”
  • The United States was the first Western nation to not include a Christian symbol in its flag. The 1797 treaty with the Islamic nation of Tripoli, in which George Washington and John Adams both played a part, states, “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. . .”
  • In fact, America was founded on the basis of compromise among many prevalent views of the day. It was never the intention of the founding fathers to submit government to the direct influence of the Bible.
  • To urge people to return to the biblical roots of our founding fathers is to confuse what is biblical with what is moral, or with what simply makes good common sense. It is to, “Appear to attribute the authority of God’s Word to what is in reality a com- promise between biblical and extrabiblical influences” (Ibid., p133).

In other words, Promise Keepers is calling us to something that is neither biblically true nor historically accurate.

  • God is not calling His people to purify America through the political process. He is not calling us to establish Israel in America. He is calling us to bring souls to Christ and disciple them to live for Him.
  • God is not calling us to deify a certain moment in American history and attempt to move back to that time. He is callingus to be lights in the midst of darkness.

If we desire to be part of the political process, we have that privilege. We even have the biblical example of Paul’s effective use of the centers given to him by the pagan Roman government. However, to believe that “moralizing” America is God’s commission to His church is to confuse the teachings of Scripture. Promise Keepers surely means well, but they have the wrong agenda!

Some Current Developments

Promise Keepers has recently changed their doctrinal statement to appease Catholics. The following are selections taken from the latest edition of Our Sunday Visitor (July 18,1997), which is an influential conservative Catholic weekly publication. An article entitled “Making New Catholic Men: Promise Keepers ‘gospel for guys:’ Is it just the thing that Catholic men need, or is it bound to loosen male bonds to the Church?” The article describes the efforts which have been made by Promise Keepers leaders to make Catholics feel at home in their organization.

The following quotes have been adapted by David W. Cloud, Fundamental Baptist News Service:

  • While there are no hard figures, some say that 10-20 percent of those men (attending Promise Keepers conferences) are Catholic. And, recently, Promise Keepers, a largely evangelical movement, has taken steps to attract even more Catholic men to its events and principles of discipleship.
  • At its March meeting, Promise Keepers’ board of directors welcomed Mike Timmis as a new member. A Detroit-area lawyer and businessman, Timmis is a longtime leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal.
  • At several rallies this year, Promise Keepers has spotlighted Catholic evangelist Jim Berlucchi as a speaker.
  • PROMISE KEEPERS FOUNDER BILL McCARTNEY TOLD OUR SUNDAY VISITOR RECENTLY THAT FULL CATHOLIC PARTICIPATION WAS HIS INTENTION FROM THE START. He said, ‘back in 1992, at our first stadium event, we very clearly stated from the podium that we eagerly welcomed the participation of Roman Catholics, and we’ve had scores of Roman Catholics attend and go back to their churches excited. . .’
  • As executive director of Christian outreach at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, (John) Sengenberger cites Promise Keepers as the inspiration of the men’s conferences his own office has sponsored since 1995. . . . Sengenberger invited representatives from Promise Keepers to visit the university. ‘We had some frank discussions and told them we needed to see some Catholic involvement on the leadership level.’ . . .When Steubenville hosted its first men’s conference in 1995, Sengenberger invited two Promise Keepers’ officials to attend: Dale Schlafer, who was at that time chairman of the board, and Glenn Wagner, a vice president. ‘It was their first time in a Catholic evangelistic setting,’ Sengenberger said. ‘They were impressed. When they were leaving, we invited them to go through our bookstore and take out any books they wanted. They went home with all kinds of theology books, Vatican II teachings. . . ‘
  • Both men returned to Steubenville for the 1996 men’s conference, where Sengenberger took them to a Eucharistic holy hour. ‘I took them aside and explained what we were doing, how THIS ONLY MAKES SENSE IF YOU BELIEVE IN THE REAL PRESENCE OF JESUS.
  • Yet profound differences remained between the evangelicals of Promise Keepers and Catholics who were sympathetic. Last year, Promise Keepers published a ‘statement of faith’ with lines that seemed to be crafted to exclude Catholics —- or force them to reject their Catholic faith. Section five of the Promise Keepers’ credo read: ‘We believe that man was created in the image of God, but because of sin, was alienated from God. That alienation can be removed only by accepting, through faith alone, God’s gift of salvation, which was made possible by Christ’s death.
  • ‘Faith alone’ is a key doctrine of the Protestant Reformation. Though the phrase appears nowhere in Scripture, it was inserted by Martin Luther into his German translation of the Bible. Concerned about this development at Promise Keepers, Sengenberger had several Catholic theologians review the statement and present their objections to Wagner last summer.
  • EARLY THIS YEAR, PROMISE KEEPERS REVISED THE STATEMENT IN A WAY THAT PASSED THEOLOGICAL MUSTER WITH THOSE CATHOLICS. ‘Only through faith, trusting in Christ alone for salvation, which was made possible by His death and resurrection, can that alienation be removed.’ Paul Edwards, Promise Keepers’ vice president for advancement, explained that the statement of faith is a ‘dynamic’ document, and that Promise Keepers is open to change.

We find ourselves in agreement with the following comments from David W. Cloud, of Fundamental Baptist News Service:

  • We see in this article more evidence that Promise Keepers’ leadership is playing politics with their ecumenical agenda. When questioned by “Protestants” about Catholic participation in Promise Keepers, they claim they want Catholics as they are as brothers in Christ without any desire to evangelize them away from their “church.”
  • We see that Promise Keepers’ leadership is bending over backwards to increase Catholic participation in its movement and to calm the fears of Catholic leaders about the prospect of Catholic men leaving Romanism because of their participation at Promise Keepers’ events. They are not requiring that Roman Catholics reject Rome’s false doctrines. Promise Keepers’ leaders are not exposing Rome’s blasphemous gospel and doctrines which have led multitudes to eternal damnation. Promise Keepers’ leaders are faced with the same dilemma as all ecumenists. If they were to preach the truth boldly and identify false doctrine plainly, it would destroy their ecumenical agenda. The Apostles were not content merely to preach the Gospel in a positive manner; they continually exposed false gospels and warned against doctrinal perversion. We are to follow in their footsteps. Our commission is to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We are to fight for the truth and AGAINST error. Promise Keepers’ leaders refuse to do this.


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