(September 1997 – Volume 3, Issue 7)
Promise Keepers is one of those organizations that many people seem to believe is above scrutiny. It seems so good, so well intended, so above criticism, that many become angry if one challenges it — even with an open Bible. Therefore, one must expect criticism when examining the movement with any level of discernment, and this is as it should be. Exhortations in sound doctrine and refutations of those who contradict (Titus 1:9) are just as open to biblical critique as Promise Keepers.
The issue is this: When our thoughts are examined do we have a solid biblical base on which to take a stand? If we do not, we must repent of our positions, realign them in light of Scripture and teach truth.
With these thoughts in mind we need to deal with some of the common criticisms we have faced, and will face, as we attempt to hold Promise Keepers’ feet to the fire of biblical truth. These criticisms come in the form of various arguments:
Argument #1 – Lack of Knowledge
Lack of knowledge is almost always the most difficult circumstance to confront. As the old adage goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” When people support an issue, theology, program or movement, BEFORE they have carefully examined these things, it is almost impossible to convince them that they are in error.
This is the reason that we have written so many papers on the subject of Promise Keepers. It is extremely rare to run into a Christian who has actually studied what Promise Keepers stands for and teaches. Most will say, “You should attend one of the rallies and you would change your mind.” Why? If Promise Keepers clearly compromises truth, teaches error and ignores Scripture — as we have demonstrated — why should we change our mind by attending a rally? If we are persuaded to change our views due to the hype and emotions perpetrated by Promise Keepers, rather than by what is taught, have we not been manipulated rather than exhorted? Is this not evidence of the danger of Promise Keepers rather than a cause for rejoicing?
I received a letter from a pastor who admitted, “I have never attended any of their meetings. I have read none of their literature. . . .I have also never read The Masculine Journey, nor had I ever even heard of Robert Hicks. I am somewhat familiar with the Vineyard Movement. . . .” Then he proceeded to tell me how wrong I am in my critique of Promise Keepers. Astounding!
In my reply to this pastor I mentioned that it was difficult to contest a position that one has never studied. On the other hand, it is difficult to help a man understand the issues when he is content with outward appearances. Yet, the argument from ignorance will be a prominent one.
Argument #2 – Why Attack Promise Keepers?
The thought behind this argument is that there are so many other things to oppose, expose and refute, why pick on something that at least seems close to truth? Sure, Promise Keepers may err in some things, but it is at least as good as most evangelical organizations and better than many. — So the rationale goes.
There is some validity to this argument but a deeper look is necessary. We believe that every major heresy in the church today began with minor errors. To wait until those errors have completely infiltrated the church and many are lead astray, is a sin that the shepherds of the flock must not allow.
In addition, God’s people are largely aware of the “major” heresies that challenge the church. These individuals do not need more information concerning the cults and the New Age movement, those are readily available. They need information concerning the breaking issues of the day — on those things that appear sound, but are flawed at the roots.
We then are not saying that Promise Keepers is the worst thing in the world of Christianity today, but it is a current movement that we believe is fundamentally defective. Some will be helped by Promise Keepers, we do not doubt that, but in the long run Promise Keepers will undermine the church’s stand for truth due to its emphasis and compromises.
Argument #3 – Our concern about ecumenism is overdone
Many today misunderstand the scope and danger of the type of ecumenism that Promise Keepers supports. One pastor wrote me saying, “Ecumenism is a concept advanced by liberals to unite many brands of Christians with many brands of non-Christians. Obviously this is not a scriptural concept. . . . Twenty years ago ecumenism may have characterized the spirit of the age. . . but today the ecumenical movement, is largely a dead movement.”
My response to this pastor was, “You are in great error in your definition of ecumenism. At one time it was a concept advanced by liberals to unite many brands of Christians with many brands of non-Christians. And I agree with you that that movement has lost much of its steam (although worldwide ecumenism is far from dead). But surely you are aware of the far more dangerous brand of ecumenism espoused by those who claim to be evangelical Christians. I have no doubt that you have read the books by Chuck Colson such as, The Body, that cries for a uniting of evangelicalism and the Roman Catholic Church. I am sure you have given detailed study to the ‘Evangelical and Catholics Together (ECT)’ document that declares good Catholics (those who believe the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and were regenerated at the rite of infant baptism) and evangelical Christians, ‘brothers in Christ.’ No, friend, ecumenism is far from dead, it is just repackaged in a new lethal form that is taking in unsuspecting Christians.”
Argument #4 – Unity is more important than truth
The argument runs something like this: God is far more interested in the unity of believers than He is that we understand and defend truth. This is evidenced by Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17:20-23. Doctrinal errors should be tolerated in the church (except perhaps for one or two issues) in order that believers might work together and accomplish more for Christ.
How are we to answer such an argument? We agree that God desires unity among the brethren, Scripture is clear on this issue — but God does not desire unity at any cost.
Let’s look first at the well loved prayer of Jesus in John 17. Note two things:
In the verses immediately prior to Jesus’ prayer for unity (vv16-19) He prays that the Father would sanctify His followers. That is, that they might be set apart from the world. How were they to be sanctified? “In truth,” Jesus prays. What was to be the basis of the believers’ sanctification from the world and their unity with one another? Truth! God calls for unity, but a unity based upon the truth of the Word of God.
This passage is greatly misused by those seeking unity at the cost of truth. Chuck Colson and Father Neuhaus repeatedly turn to it in the ECT. What they neglect to mention is that this is no longer the prayer of Christ — it has been accomplished. I Cor. 12:13 makes it clear that this prayer was answered when God established the one body (the church) into which all believers have been baptized. Christ is not calling for external unity, that theory is a complete mis-understanding of the passage.
Next, we move on to the epistles. We must remember that the writers of the epistles spent a great deal of time correcting and warning churches. Those who were leading the believers astray were those WITHIN the church itself. They were not outsiders, but often, members in good standing. The writers of the epistles were not shy about pointing out error at the expense of unity. Note the following survey:
a. In I Corinthians 15:12ff some were teaching error concerning the resurrection. This issue so concerned Paul that later he excommunicated two men for similar teaching (cp II Tim. 2:1 with I Tim. 1:20). Although the issue here is somewhat different, it was still excommunication over doctrinal issues surrounding the resurrection — a very disuniting thing to do.
b. The whole section of II Corinthians 10-13 is dealing with those within the church who were challenging Paul and his teachings. There, he was concerned that they were being lead astray from the truths concerning Christ, the Holy Spirit and the gospel (II Cor. 11:3,4).
c. Galatians 1:9 pronounces a curse on those claiming to be believers who were perverting the gospel; Gal. 2:1ff illustrates disunity between Paul and Peter over legalism because of its reflection on the gospel.
d. Ephesians 4:11 shows that one of the reasons that pastor/ teachers have been given to the church is to produce unity. Yet, how are they to do this? Obviously through sound teaching of the doctrinal truth (4:12-16). Note that unity will only be a reality when Christians are no longer tossed about by every wind of doctrine (v 14). That is only possible when believers have been taught truth.
e. In Colossians 2, after pointing out the importance of living by truth (vv 6,7) Paul warns of three errors that were affecting the believers in the church. These errors were being taught by those who at least claimed to be Christians. The first was philosophy(v8). This corresponds today to the “Christian psychology” that has inundated the church. The second is mysticism (v16-19) that all but defines the Charismatic and Vineyard movements. The third and last would be that of asceticism and legalism (vv20-23). In no uncertain terms Paul underlines the errors of those teaching these false views of Christianity. He does not ignore these issues for the sake of unity.
f. In II Thessalonians 2:1-2 some within the church at large were teaching error concerning the second coming and Paul brings them up short. There is also no real basis for dismissing those described in I Tim. 4:1-5 and II Tim. 3:1-7 as non-Christians. Great Bible teachers take both positions.
g. How about the doctrine (truth) of serving masters in I Tim. 6:3-5. Paul issues a major rebuke to those who would not follow the biblical teachings even in such a practical issue.
h. II Peter 2 & Jude — I think it should be pointed out that Peter’s audience did not believe these individuals to be false teachers. They were part of the church, they had risen from among the people (II Pet. 2:1). They also did not announce their sinful living nor their false teachings. It is for this reason that Peter warns his readers to beware. The warning is still in place today.
i. I John 4:1-6 — Some believe that this passage expresses the only test of orthodoxy — the test of Christology. Think that through for a moment. This would mean that the Roman Catholic Church is orthodox and of God? Now, I am not speaking of individuals here, but of the apostate church itself. The Roman Catholic Church believes in the deity of Christ every bit as much as evangelical Christians, so have they passed the test of orthodoxy and may now be embraced by the evangelical church? Certainly not, for they denysalvation by faith alone, they deny the finished work of Christ, they teach dozens of heretical doctrines. So what is John saying? When we examine the whole book we realize that John was in a battle with the early roots of Gnosticism which taught esoteric and mystical revelations through the spirit world and at the same time denied the deity of Christ. Against that backdrop the passage is to be understood. John was addressing a particular heresy, not every heresy.
The Scriptural doctrine of separation does not call for the breaking of fellowship over minor issues. While we may seek to correct one another over smaller issues, we should only draw the line over issues of fundamental proportion. Two such issues that I believe Promise Keepers compromises on are salvation and Scripture.
Concerning salvation, I believe that uniting with Roman Catholics must of necessity compromise the gospel, no matter how Promise Keepers’ doctrinal statement reads. At the Council of Trent it was stated, “If anyone says that the faith which justifies is nothing else but trust in the divine mercy, which pardons sins because of Christ; or that it is that trust alone by which we are justified: let him be anathema.” That has never been recanted and is the teaching of Rome today. To attempt to distinguish between Catholic and the Roman Catholic Church, as some have done is also cause for great concern. I will agree that there are some Catholics who are saved, but only if they have renounced the teachings of the church. In which case they should obey Scriptures and get out of the Roman Catholic Church (II Cor. 6:14-18). To actively seek and recruit those within the Catholic church as leaders of Promise Keepers shows the extent of their compromise. We are talking about the gospel here, not musical preference.
The Scriptures are also under attack by Promise Keepers. Its leadership is dominated by Vineyard and Charismatic men. These men believe in direct revelation from God today. Many of them have claimed to have received such revelation. These views are being taught by Promise Keepers on both the national and local level. Only a few years of such influence, unchallenged by men who should know better, will have a profound affect upon the church’s view of Scripture.
It is for reasons such as these that we are concerned about Promise Keepers and those who support them. We are concerned for shepherds who have either not taken the time, or cannot take the time, to go below the surface of such movements.
That is why we write these study papers. There exists a breed of evangelical leaders and pastors today that are extremely naive about the schemes of the devil. They trustingly take everyone and everything at face value and cry for unity and tolerance even in the face of great error. They believe that the only danger that the flock faces is external and obvious. As a result, they do not study, nor are they concerned with the issues, movements and doctrinal novelties that the church faces.
Paul strongly warned the shepherds of Ephesus that savage wolves would come in among them, not sparing the flock. He told them that these wolves would spring up among themselves (they would be professing believers). Then he admonished them to be on the alert (Acts 20:27-33).
Shepherds are to be on the alert for savage wolves among us. This implies that the flock will have a hard time distinguishing the wolves from the sheep; therefore, it is the obligation of the shepherd to identify the wolves. We do that, not by superficial means, not by external examination, but by studying what they teach (doctrine). When we see error we must warn and protect the flock, to do otherwise is a travesty. Did Paul not combat the legalistic Christians (mostly Jews)? The book of Galatians and Acts 15 tells us that he did. These men may have been believers but they were in error — they were the very wolves that Paul warned against.
If it is the shepherd’s obligation to protect the sheep and if we must identify wolves in order to do that, then we must know the wolves. We need to study doctrines of the current wolves. Do we know what the fastest growing elements of so-called “evangelicalism” are teaching today?
Do we know what the Faith movement, the Vineyard movement, the Spiritual Warfare movement, Evangelical and Catholics Together, and many others teach? Do we know that professors at Trinity and Wheaton are writing well accepted books denying creationism and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? Do we know that men as “evangelical” as John R.W. Stott and Josh McDowell are teaching a new form of universalism known as “wider grace?” Not to mention the overwhelming flood of Christian leaders who have bought into “Christian psychology.”
Are we aware that four evangelicals have just written a book claiming that even God does not really know the future and has no control over it (The Openness of God)? These are important issues being taught by evangelicals that will destroy the flocks that lack strong, well informed and discerning shepherds. We are not talking about secondary issues. We are talking about the raping of the fundamentals of the faith: salvation, Scripture, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit and the sovereignty of God!
Are we willing to join arms with men who teach such error for the sake of some kind of outward conformity? Promise Keepers is! Do we not see where such a movement will lead the church in a few years?
Surely we have something better to offer Christian men than a morality that all religions can embrace. We have the local church. We have the Word of God. We have numerous opportunities to strengthen men and families without compromising with those who attempt to make men godly through unbiblical means.