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The March of the Promise Keepers

March 1995 | by Geoff Thomas

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The American Christian colonization of the world goes on from A to Z: Accelerated Christian Education, Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade, Church Growth Movement, Decision, Eerdmans, Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Ltd., Kenneth Hagin Ministries, International Council of Christian Churches, Jesus People, Kansas City Prophets, Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, Morris Cerullo World Evangelism Society, Navigators, Oral Roberts, Plain Truth, Richard Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Toronto Blessing, Vineyard Fellowship, Willowcreek, Youth with a Mission and Zondervan.

How did the New Testament church survive without any societies?

Can there be any room left for yet another organization to tell the local church how to evangelize, make people holy, save the family, help the singles, work with minorities, attract the teenagers, influence the community and counsel the troubled?

Oh yes, there can be! There is no flagging to American religious energy.

The latest organization to spread like a forest fire across the USA is something called the Promise Keepers. It might have an organizing committee in Britain already, or if not, stand by! Nothing can stop Promise Keepers going round the world.

Before this evaluation can be misinterpreted as a criticism of any sincere Englishmen who have become its UK founders, let us evaluate this latest para-church organization. Maybe some early enthusiasts will stop and pray before becoming a further part of the US religious colonization of Britain, and will pray about what they can do to strengthen their local congregation.

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Its amazing growth

At the Promise Keepers’ first convention in 1991 4,200 men attended; in 1992 22,000 men; in 1993 50,000 turned up. The total for 1994 was about 300,000 men filling seven sports stadiums. A news event from those rallies was recently shown on BBC television. This year they expect 750,000 men to attend, including 60,000 pastors. Promise Keepers took in $1,000,000 last year. To attend an annual rally costs $40. The goal for next year is a million men to meet in Washington D.C. as a witness to the nation of God’s power in men’s lives.

The founder of Promise Keepers is the University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney and he is still the movement’s figurehead. Its president is Randy Philips and the organization has 80 full-time workers – there are 10,000 phone calls a day to answer. It is endorsed by other pare-church leaders such as Bill Bright, while James Dobson’s active pro motion of this organization in his daily broadcasts coast to coast was its turning point. Dobson urges wives to get their husbands involved.

Many churches in America who want to be known as evangelical have been drawn into it and have regular meetings of Promise Keepers led by a core of enthusiasts. Reformed magazines report the meetings positively: ‘Can you imagine the thrill of standing with 40.000 men and singing “Amazing Grace” a cappella?’ one asked. Promise Keepers has its own magazine called New Man.

What are the Promise Keepers?

Promise Keepers is a movement of men. Its message is that men have failed to be spiritual leaders in the home, church and community. In their big rallies they are addressed by such preachers as Chuck Swindoll; other men share their testimonies of how they have surmounted problems by the grace of God. The atmosphere is that of a Christian rock concert and Arminian evangelistic meeting with a final call for men to come to the front to rededicate their lives. There are tears and hugs as the rally breaks up and men ‘share’ with one another around the stadium. At the end of the day they are encouraged to go back home and form intimate fellowships, and meet regularly, say on a Saturday morning for breakfast, and speak of their struggles, praying together in accountability groups, and admonishing one another to make progress in their relationships and vocations. That the church has been feminized is the allegation, and that has created the conditions for this organization to come into being. Promise Keepers’ literature says, ‘Unless men do take their rightful place, the churches will remain powerless, simply because the Lord does not bestow honour where the men are weak.’

The seven promises

Promise Keepers men are reminded of their authority and leadership, and urged to reclaim responsible fatherhood: ‘Fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role in the lives of their children. ‘Promise Keepers believes that there is a war on the family within society and every man is being called upon to lead and protect his wife and children, actively discern his culture, defend his convictions and discipline his children. Another part of the message is one of racial healing. Promise Keepers make seven promises:

1. A Promise Keeper is committed to honouring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to God’s Word.

2. A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.

3. A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity.

4. A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values.

5. A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honouring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving hi s time and resources.

6. A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.

7. A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Many of these emphases reflect a biblical morality encouraging men to become more active in their churches and families. So what possible reservations could there be with this growing organization?

Problems with Promise Keepers

Who wants to hear about problems? With the breakdown of the family, the weakness of the churches and the few areas in which evangelical Christians can work together can we not all gather around and support Promise Keepers? This is the same plea some made who were enthusiastic for the Festival of Light, or that we hear today when we are encouraged to ‘March for Jesus’.

The ecumenical issue

Promise Keepers is a broadly ecumenical organization embracing men in every denomination, Protestant and Roman Catholic. When Randy Philips the movement’s president was asked if members would be allowed to speak to Roman Catholics on their doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory, etc, ‘to try to bring enlightenment and to lead them out of the Roman Catholic Church’, he replied, ‘I think you’re dealing with a whole area that is not our expertise or calling. By not taking a stand on doctrinal issues, Promise Keepers overlooks the doctrinal differences. True believers in Christ will not attempt to lead Roman Catholics into their own denominations, but will attempt to lead them to Christ so they can enjoy the freedom that is theirs.’

Both Randy Philips and Bill McCartney are members of John Wimber’s Vineyard church in Boulder, Colorado. Vineyard’s emphases on leading by special revelation has had a significant place in the development of the movement. The first promise in the Promise Keepers’ pledge is ‘obedience to God’s Word’ but there are teachings in the Bible, such as the perfection of the finished work of Christ’s redemption, which are central for any true co-operative evangelism or worship. If God will not honour a church where men refuse to take their true role (as Promise Keepers claims) can we expect him to honour a testimony which is silent about the accomplishments of his Son? Yet when at last year’s rally Bill McCartney cried, ‘Promise Keepers don’t care if you’re a Catholic,’ there was vigorous applause from many. We do care about people whose confidence is in the whole sacerdotal system of Rome. Silence about that is too big a price to pay for co-operative worship and evangelism. To the Promise Keeper such an attitude is ‘unloving’. So be it. ‘O how I love thy law.’ The only way a Promise Keeper can validate his teachings is by commitment to the promises of God’s free forgiveness from the cross as revealed in the Bible. Personal integrity is not a sufficient goal: righteousness which is apart from trust in Christ alone is filthy rags.

Welcoming homosexuals

Concerning homosexuality Promise Keepers takes the position that sex is a good gift from God to be enjoyed in the context of a heterosexual marriage. It also believes that homosexuality is a complex and polarizing issue. It states, ‘As an organization we believe that homosexuals are men who need the same support, encouragement and healing we are offering to all men. While we have clear convictions regarding the issue of homosexuality, we are sensitive to and have compassion for the men who are struggling with these issues. We, therefore, support their being included and welcomed in all our events.’

Of course, sinners are to be invited to hear the gospel. But what of the practicing homosexual who has been disciplined by his local church, after months of counseling and debate which has tom the congregation in half ? What if finally that fellowship rightly says to the man, ‘You cannot be an unrepentant practicing homosexual and still be a Christian’ and terminates his membership? He then discovers this organization of men which says, ‘We support your being included and welcomed in all our events. ‘Once again the evangelical church is made to appear the unloving crowd.

Women are helpers suitable for men

The predominant counseling message in Promise Keepers is that from now on men should meet the ‘needs’ of their wives, and begin to share in the leadership that has been held by women. The main Christian counselor for this organization is Gary Smalley, and his insistence is not that men should learn how to please God so much as how to please their wives. It has been said by Albert Dager, who has examined Promise Keepers from the beginning, that ‘Women who read Smalley’s books tend to look upon their husbands as less than adequate – men who do not meet their needs. They are never told that their husband was not made for them, but they were made for their husband (I Corinthians 11:9). According to the New Testament it is the woman who is to meet the needs of her husband. He is to love and protect his wife, giving her what is good for her.This does not mean he should be insensitive; it means he is to be loving and caring. This is not insensitivity (the psychological model), it is godliness (the biblical model).’ Promise Keepers becomes an unexpected partner in the steady feminization of the church.

The weakness of the local church

Promise Keepers has arisen because of the weakness of American congregations. The great need is not another mega-organization sucking in the energy, enthusiasm and finance of Christians, but churches which are New Testament, where the whole counsel of God is declared, where vital relationships between members are fostered, where commitment to spiritual, moral and sexual purity is renewed each Sunday, where marriages are continually being strengthened, where the mission of the church and its pastor and leaders are prayed for, where no racial barriers exist, and where the challenge of the Great Commandment and Commission is constantly heard. That will take all the time and gifts of every member, but then, what a holy and loving fellowship will be found The congregation is always God’s primary instrument for spiritual maturity

Geoff Thomas