ComPromise Keepers? |

McMahon, T.A.

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.


Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.


Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.


Love, truth and discipleship. The Scriptures teach us that all three are inseparable. If we are truly to be Christ's disciples we will "continue in [His] word" and we will "keep [His] words." That obedience, compelled by love, will produce a love for others, a love committed to and sustained by truth.

Our feature article (TBC, April '94) critical of Promise Keepers' affinity for psychology and of its sponsorship of the heavily psychologized and spiritually blasphemous book, The Masculine Journey, brought some admonishment by a number of pastors for missing the value of a movement which could play a significant role in restoring the men of this country to godliness. Surely we wanted that as well, didn't we? Absolutely! And obviously our criticism (as well as that of many others) hasn't undermined Promise Keepers' popularity. From a mere handful of men at the beginning of this decade to an astounding 700,000 who have filled stadiums across the country this year, Promise Keepers' expansion has reached tidal-wave proportions.

Perhaps what has generated the most enthusiasm for this men's movement is the fact that our country's secular institutions, its churches, its families, and we as individuals are increasingly beset by a multitude of social and moral problems. Certainly, many would like to see PK's "promises" help reverse that trend. Its basic premise—to see men become the spiritual leaders in their homes and make a moral impact upon their communities—has wide appeal, even among secular reviewers. The organization's desire to help turn things around is biblical, and to its premise we also add our "Amen!" Its implementation, however, concerns not only us but others who see Promise Keepers steering away from the biblical solution.

Promise Keepers began with two praiseworthy objectives. In March of 1990, then University of Colorado football Coach Bill McCartney and Fellowship of Christian Athletes director Dave Wardell had concerns that "The Church isn't reaching men as it should, to train and teach them that a man's man is a godly man." McCartney felt that "there is a special dynamic when men come together to honor Christ...." He envisioned thousands of men uniting in "stadiums across America, motivating men to 'make a difference' in their families and churches...." Wardell and McCartney's desire was to "disciple men one on one." They began recruiting others "who were disciplers of men" and who were committed to working to "develop men on a daily and weekly basis." Dave Wardell remembers, "God brought us together to both motivate men and develop relationships that would cause long-term change."1

Discipleship, Christian fellowship, motivation toward godliness. Certainly any committed Christian would be thrilled over such an endeavor. In fact, that's what excited nearly all the pastors with whom we talked. To them this was a grand opportunity to have the men of their congregations motivated, unified in the faith and discipled. So they hoped—but many are now having serious concerns that Promise Keepers is not delivering the biblical goods. Discipleship, Christian fellowship, and motivation toward godliness must be developed out of, and in accord with, the Word of God. Instead, PK is on a course rife with compromises. Its growing ecumenism, affinity for the psychological, reluctance to deal with doctrine, worldly promotions of the "gospel," etc., have been carefully documented in numerous articles by many concerned ministries, so this writing will be limited to one fundamental issue: discipleship.

As we noted, at its beginning Promise Keepers stressed discipleship. However, in its zeal to unify professing Christian men, PK has decided that doctrine is a stumbling block to unity, rather than the biblical basis for it. That makes Christian discipleship an impossibility. Very simply, there is no true discipleship without doctrine: "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed" (Jn:8:31). Doctrine tells us who Christ is, what He did, and how to be saved; and unless a person is first of all saved he cannot be discipled. A man who believes a false gospel or in a false Christ has no basis for being discipled.

Nevertheless, Promise Keepers makes a practice of evading doctrinal distinctions. The following is a qualifying preface in the PK Ambassador's instructional booklet: "Remember as you are going out [to contact churches and pastors on behalf of Promise Keepers], you are not representing yourself and your personal stands on a doctrinal issue, but representing our unique mission and participating in the task of uniting men" (emphasis ours).2 The booklet gives "Some of the [doctrinal] issues that should not be addressed: Eternal security; The gifts of the Spirit; Baptism; Pretribulation or post-tribulation; Sacraments or ordinances." While we agree that there are some doctrines not crucial to the gospel which can be avoided for the sake of Christian unity, there are others which cannot. For example, the mode of baptism does not affect salvation, and its discussion is not critical; however, the false belief that baptism is a significant part of the salvation process must be addressed. Likewise, the Roman Catholic teaching that our redemption is in the process of being accomplished through the sacraments is a false gospel. Yet, Promise Keepers avoids confronting Roman Catholic and Mormon doctrines which prevent those who believe them from being saved.

PK president Randy Phillips was asked by Al Dager of Media Spotlight, "Considering Roman Catholic...doctrines relative to Transubstantiation, the Mass and so forth, is there anything Promise Keepers would say as to how their members should interact with Roman Catholics? Would they be allowed to challenge on those issues, to try to bring enlightenment [concerning the gospel that saves]...?"

Phillips replied, "I think you are dealing with a whole area that is not our expertise or calling. I think there are those in the theological community that are dealing with those issues from both camps...." That's a stunning comment. As an ex-Catholic, Phillips surely must know better; and coming from Promise Keeper's CEO, the statement should make one greatly concerned about the ongoing development of its discipleship program.

It's no wonder that Promise Keepers has become very appealing to Roman Catholic laymen, clergy and those in official positions; the same is true of Mormons ("News Alerts," TBC June '95). Would that be so if the false doctrines of Roman Catholicism or Mormonism were confronted for the sake of the lost souls in bondage to their belief systems? Indeed, a gospel is preached at PK conferences—but not salvation by faith alone, through Christ alone, or the Catholic and Mormon churches would not approve. It's claimed that the conferences are an environment where men can experience the love of Christ and the fellowship of those who love Him. We're told that the power of such a demonstration of love will draw men to Jesus. But Jesus who? The Jesus of Roman Catholicism who is perpetually offered for salvation on millions of altars around the world, or the Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints whose sacrifice on the cross also does not fully save?

PK's compromising position on doctrine has many other spiritually destructive consequences. Let's say that a Catholic or Mormon goes forward at the invitation of a conference speaker to give his life to Christ. Is he saved? Not unless he has been delivered from the false Catholic or Mormon gospel. May the PK counselor clarify that for him? Not if the counselor adheres to PK guidelines. May the PK counselor with whom he prays tell him he's just been washed of all his sins, is now saved, and has eternal life? Not without contradicting Catholic or Mormon doctrine.

What happens, then, to this Catholic or Mormon? In keeping with an overriding concern for unity and the need to avoid an offensive impression of proselytizing, the Catholic is encouraged to get involved with his local parish and Catholic PK group, many of which are led by parish priests. The Mormon who responds to the invitation must be directed back to the fellowship of Mormons from which he came. That is the distinct understanding PK supporters among Catholic, Latter-Day Saints and Reorganized Latter-day Saints leadership have who were interviewed by Martin Bobgan (PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Sep./Oct. '95). Promise Keeper Catholics will continue to be nurtured in salvation earned by the "grace" dispensed through the treasury of Church liturgy, the Eucharist and other sacraments, indulgences, rosaries, prayers to dead saints, purgatory, etc. Mormons likewise will continue to trust in Joseph Smith and the occultic system of salvation he conjured. Furthermore, Promise Keepers materials for discipleship are designed not to dissuade Catholics or Mormons from their false gospel or false Christ.

But what about those conferees from an evangelical church background who recommit their lives to Christ? Wouldn't their PK-affiliated local discipleship gatherings provide the biblical basis for teaching and growth? Not if the local groups stick with Promise Keepers guidelines and current materials. These guidelines avoid doctrinal essentials of discipleship because of PK's position that doctrinal differences inhibit unity. Consequently, the materials and the "discipling" methods are heavily experiential, i.e., a mixture of encounter-group methods, psychological concepts and biblical principles, the validity of which is decided for the most part by the feelings of the participants. One PK group-study book encourages "complete acceptance: no judgment....No hidden agendas! I'm not out to change you and you're not out to change me. Complete acceptance will create a safe place where men can really be themselves."3 That is not biblical discipleship! Such small group "discipling" may seem to help many men on an emotional level, but if the content of their fellowship time is psychotherapeutically oriented, spiritually polluted, and doctrinally ambivalent, there is no hope of achieving what the pastors of these men say they want for them, what their wives say they want for them, and what the men themselves may indeed want: to grow strong and steadfast in the Lord (1 Cor:15:58).

After researching Promise Keepers more than a year ago, we initially thought it was a good idea caught up in a zeal without knowledge which, unless corrected, would lead the organization astray (Prv 19:2). Today, that zeal is amplified by money, numbers and power, and a militancy against those urging correction (O Timothy, Vol. 12, Issue 9, '95). In calling for 100,000 pastors to join him at the PK conference at Atlanta in February '96, Bill McCartney chided reluctant pastors, "Why wouldn't you want to be a part of what God wants to do with His hand-picked leaders?" Promising a God-ordained time of personal (albeit highly experiential and doctrinally negligible) transformation, he declared, "I think He's going to tear [pastors' hearts] open. And I think He's going to put them back together again as one. One leadership. We've got to have one leadership, one leadership only!"4

Hopefully, by "one leadership" Bill McCartney means Christ. He has always been the Head of the church and exercises His leadership through His Word, the guidance of the Holy Spirit and devoted shepherds of local churches. No new organization is necessary to establish one leadership. Yet McCartney seems to think that becoming a part of Promise Keepers brings men and churches under an essential "one leadership" that is lacking. That's a scary statement, coming from the founder of the largest ecumenically minded movement in Christendom; coming from a former Catholic (though his statements are ambiguous about having left Roman Catholicism, which, had he done so, would officially anathematize him as an apostate) who decries making doctrinal distinctions; and coming from a man who evidently has lost his earlier concern for biblical discipleship.

Our prayer is for the local shepherds, that God would give them wisdom and discernment in their charge over and feeding of their flocks, and the strength to resist what does not line up with His Word. May they themselves oversee the biblical discipling of the men of their churches. Our prayer, too, is for godly wives who would encourage their husbands to grow in love and in obedience to what the Scriptures teach. "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, [conduct yourselves] like men, be strong. Let all...things be done with [love]" (1 Cor:16:13-14). TBC


  1. Dr. Dave Wardell, "Promise Keepers' History," Promise Keepers document, p. 4.
  2. "Answering Doctrinal and Denominational Questions and Challenges," Promise Keepers document, p. 10.
  3. Geoff Gorsuch, Brothers! Calling Men into Vital Relationships (Promise Keepers/Navpress, 1994), p. 14.
  4. Bill McCartney, addressing a PK conference at the Detroit Silver Dome, April 29, 1995.