Enthusiasm for PK is widespread. Support for PK crosses all denominational lines. Churches and church leaders of every conceivable stripe (Baptist, Charismatic, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Reformed) are endorsing the PK movement. Clergymen in all these different churches are promoting attendance at PK meetings and use of PK literature at the local church level.
It seems that everyone who has attended PK meetings has only positive things to say about the experience. They come away with rave reviews of the speeches, the singing, and the fellowship. There are testimonies of changed lives and renewed commitments--all credited to PK. If eyebrows are raised or concerns expressed, the comeback is invariably: "Just go to one of the meetings. You'll see and you'll change your mind."
Of special concern is the fact that PK is approved by Reformed churches and Reformed Christians. Many Reformed ministers give their endorsement. Recently, a reader of The Banner inquired about PK, at the same time admitting that PK caused "...all kinds of red flags (to) go up in my mind...." Rev. Ken Koeman, pastor of Sonlight Community Christian Reformed Church of Lynden, WA responded. He admitted to having reservations himself. But after attending a PK meeting in Seattle's Kingdome, those reservations were removed. He went on to say:
"Nor did we find Promise Keepers to be anti-Reformed. Leaders repeatedly issued God's call to serve Christ in all aspects of a man's world. Promise Keepers is showing some of the same marks that authentic revivals brought about by the Holy Spirit have shown throughout history.... (1)In the Grand Rapids Press, Saturday, February 17, 1996 it was reported that some 350 Christian Reformed Church clergy, nearly one-third of the total number in the denomination, had attended the recent meeting of PK at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. That is a significant percentage of Christian Reformed ministers.
It is also the case that Protestant Reformed church members have participated in PK. I know that there were a number of people from the Grand Rapids area that attended the PK meeting in Pontiac at the Silverdome in April of 1995. Some, undoubtedly, were curious. Some came away with serious concerns. But some returned wholehearted supporters of PK.
Although PK enjoys a broad base of support, there have been those critical of this latest darling of American evangelicals. Al Dager of Media Spotlight has been very pointed in his criticism of PK. I recommend his 24-page special report, "Promise Keepers: Is What You See What You Get?" M.H. Reynolds, editor of Foundation magazine has written a pamphlet entitled, "The Promise Keepers Movement Is Dangerous--Watch Out For It!" His conclusion? "...this movement represents another massive effort of Satan to mix truth and error in some very deceptive ways." (2). Ernest D. Pickering in his "Promise Keepers And The Forgotten Promise" is also critical of PK. He calls all Bible-believing pastors to refuse to promote PK in their congregations and to inform their people of the dangers of the movement. (3). Gil Rugh, senior pastor of Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE has taken issue with PK in his pamphlet, "Promise Keepers And The Rising Tide Of Ecumenism." Martin and Deidre Bobgan have been especially critical of PK for its concessions to unbelieving psychological theory. Their "Promise Keepers and Psycho-Heresy" can be obtained through Media Spotlight. These are just a few who are speaking out against the dangers posed by PK.
In his January 1, 1996 column in The Standard Bearer, Rev. G. Van Baren reported the resolution passed by the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC), an association of conservative churches.
While we acknowledge it to be God's will that Christian men provide biblical leadership in the home and in the local church, the American Council of Christian Churches stands diametrically opposed to Promise Keepers. This ecumenical movement is both unscriptural and dangerous because it ignores God's Word, which clearly forbids fellowship with those who disobey the Bible.... The rallies sponsored by Promise Keepers include speakers that belong to churches in the apostate National Council of Churches and the compromising National Association of Evangelicals. Promise Keepers has broadened to include participation from not only Roman Catholics but also Mormons.(4).I want to examine PK with you, in obedience to the apostle's command that we "... try the spirits whether they are of God," I John 4:1.
PK has experienced phenomenal growth from its very beginning. Its first conference was held in June of 1991. 4,200 men gathered at the University of Colorado Coors Events Center to hear presentations developing the main theme of the conference, "Where Are The Men?" The men who attended were challenged to bring at least 12 other men with them to the 1992 PK conference.
The theme of the 1992 PK conference was "What Makes A Man?" 1,500 hundred clergymen and lay leaders gathered for the first National Leadership Conference, and 22,000 men from nearly every state convened at the University of Colorado's Folsom Field.
The goal of the 1993 PK conference was to fill Folsom Field. The conference theme was, "Face To Face." Over 50,000 men attended. The second National Leadership Conference was attended by over 3,000 pastors and lay leaders.
1994 was a significant year for PK. This year the conference schedule was expanded to include other cities. Besides Boulder, the conference theme, "Seize The Moment," was carried to Anaheim, CA; Boise, ID; Indianapolis, IN; Denton, TX; and Portland, OR. Over a quarter of a million men packed into the sold out stadiums to be a part of PK.
In 1995 PK brought its theme, "Raise The Standard," to nationwide venues. Once more, stadiums were packed and the messages presented enthusiastically received. Over 750,000 men attended the 1995 PK conferences, including over 60,000 pastors.
Plans for 1996 were reported in the November 6, 1995 issue of Time magazine. PK "... is in the process of reserving 23 stadiums for 1996, with several more possible; the intended audience approaches 1.5 million. The group's total budget, $64 million for 1995, is expected to jump commensurately." (5) In 1997 PK is planning its own million man march on Washington, DC.
PK has received the endorsement of many churches, church leaders, and other ministries. Bill Bright, director of Campus Crusade For Christ has wholeheartedly endorsed PK and has incorporated use of PK materials into his organization's ministry. Well-known Christian psychologist and head of Focus On The Family, Dr. James Dobson, has become an enthusiastic promoter of PK. He is a regularly featured speaker at PK conferences. Focus On The Family is also cooperating in publishing much of PK literature.
The ministry of PK is divided into six distinct branches.
The philosophy of PK is summarized in the well-known "Seven Promises Of A Promise Keeper." Every PK must subscribe to these seven promises.
Promise #1. A Man and His God: A PK is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to God's Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Promise #2. A Man and His Mentors: A PK is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few good men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
Promise #3. A Man and His Integrity: A PK is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
Promise #4. A Man and His Family: A PK is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection, and Biblical values.
Promise #5. A Man and His Church: A PK is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources.
Promise #6. A Man and His Brothers: A PK is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of Biblical unity.
Promise #7. A Man and His World: A PK is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
There are others who are voicing criticism of the PK movement. Many in the secular media have charged that PK is a sexist, homophobic, brainwashing cult. They would most likely say the same about us. Other Christians have criticized PK. We appreciate their insights and the courage they have displayed in daring to speak out against so popular a movement. We have benefited from their writings.
But, we trust, our criticisms of PK will reflect our distinct Reformed persuasion. These are criticisms with which everyone who identifies himself as a Reformed Christian ought to be able to agree.
Criticism #1. PK promotes unity at the expense of the truth.
Criticism #2. PK makes serious concessions to Roman Catholicism.
Criticism #3. PK is a para-church organization that usurps the prerogatives that God has given to the church.
Criticism #4. PK makes serious concessions to the charismatic movement.
Criticism #5. PK compromises the doctrines of sovereign grace.
Criticism #6. PK undermines the Biblical teaching concerning marriage and the family.
Now, I don't mean to suggest that all cultural differences and denominational distinctives are going to disappear. But what I know is that Almighty God want to bring Christian men together regardless of their ethnic origin, denominational background, or style of worship. There's only one criterion for this kind of unity: to love Jesus and be born of the Spirit of God. Can we look one another in the eye-- black, white, red, brown, yellow, Baptist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Catholic, and so on--and get together on this common ground: 'We believe in salvation though Christ alone, and we have made Him the Lord of our lives'? Is that not the central, unifying reality of our existence? And if it is, can we not focus on that and call each other brother instead of always emphasizing our differences? Men, we have to get together on this! (6)In his speech at the 1994 Promise Keepers "Seize The Moment" conference in Portland, OR, McCartney proclaimed:
Promise Keepers doesn't care if you're white. Do you love Jesus; are you born of the Spirit of God?This disregard for doctrine and doctrinal distinctives shows itself in the array of speakers utilized at the PK meetings. Featured on the same platform together are Arminians, like Bill Bright and Luis Palau; Pentecostals, like Jack Hayford and Chuck Smith; Dispensationalists, like Charles Swindoll and Joe Stowell. Nearly every viewpoint is accepted; none are excluded. Even Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are cordially included in PK.
Promise Keepers doesn't care if you're black. Do you love Jesus; are you born of the Spirit of God?
Promise Keepers doesn't care if you're brown. Do you love Jesus; are you born of the Spirit of God?
Promise Keepers doesn't care if you're Pentecostal. Do you love Jesus; are you born of the Spirit of God?
Hear me: Promise Keepers doesn't care if you're Catholic. Do you love Jesus; are you born of the Spirit of God? (7)
For the sake of unity, criticism of divergent positions is avoided by PK. In its manual describing the duties of Ambassadors, the following caution is issued:
Because Promise Keepers is committed to building relational bridges, Ambassadors must avoid negative political, doctrinal, and denominational remarks and discussions. In some cases, an Ambassador will encounter a church that is outside his personal comfort zone in terms of cultural or denominational emphases. If so, he should remember that he does not have to answer every question. (8)Any Reformed man attending a PK rally is brought directly into fellowship with those with whom he has the most serious disagreements. He holds hands with, joins in prayer with, worships with those who are condemned in the strongest of terms by our Reformed creeds. By that fellowship, he turns his back on the whole history of the Reformed faith in its struggle to maintain the Reformed distinctives. How can this be! That a Reformed minister can declare that after having attended a PK conference he found nothing that is anti-Reformed, is not an indication of how good a movement PK is, but rather of how bad things are in Reformed churches today.
This disregard for the truth cannot be squared with the Scriptures. According to I Tim. 3:15, the church is called to be pillar and ground of the truth. The Apostle John expresses that he has no greater joy than to hear that his children walk in the truth, III John 4. It is the truth, says Jesus in John 8:32, that makes men free.
The Scriptures call the church, especially the leaders in the church, to warn against false teachers and separate from disobedient brethren: II Cor. 6:14-18; Gal. 1:6-10; Eph. 5:11; II Thes. 3:6, 14, 15.
PK ignores the plain teaching of Scripture that doctrinal oneness--the truth--is the very foundation of the unity of the church. "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?," Amos 3:3.
In the ecumenical efforts of PK, I hear the footsteps of Antichrist. It ought not to be difficult for any Reformed Christian to see how PK figures into the design of Satan to bring about the one universal church of the end-time--the false church that will persecute to the death the faithful people of God.
The evidence of this congenial attitude toward Roman Catholicism is not difficult to produce.
McCartney made that plain in his remarks at the Portland, OR conference when he said, "Hear Me: Promise Keepers doesn't care if you're Catholic. Do you love Jesus; are you born of the Spirit of God?" (9).
In an interview with Al Dager, in response to Dager's question, "On the issue of Catholicism, does Promise Keepers have a policy on how to interact with Roman Catholics?," Randy Phillips responded:
What we do care about is do you love Jesus, and are you born again by the Spirit of God? And so if you have been born again by the Spirit of God, then whatever the labels are should not divide us. So from that standpoint, all men are welcome, and certainly are, whether you're Baptist, Pentecostal or Roman Catholic. If you are in the Body of Christ, then you should certainly be welcome. (10).In its literature, Roman Catholic priests are recognized as legitimate representatives of Christ and PK are called to pray for their ministry. In the PK publication, Brothers: Calling Men Into Vital Relatonships, it is stated:
One of the core values of Promise Keepers is honoring the pastors (emphasis mine, RC) of our local congregations. (11).Bill Bright and Chuck Colson, leading speakers for PK, are signers of "Evangelicals And Catholics Together" (ECT). This document, co-authored by a number of leading Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, promotes the idea that no significant barriers stand in the way of cooperation between Protestants and Roman Catholics.
In Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, Jack Hayford makes the following astonishing concession to Roman Catholic worship.
Redeeming worship centers on the Lord's Table. Whether your tradition celebrates it as Communion, Eucharist, the Mass, or the Lord's Supper, we are all called to this centerpiece of Christian worship. Jesus, the builder of the church, commanded that this regular practice be laid in the foundations of our observance as worshipers. (12).Amazing! Not only is the Roman Catholic worship of the Mass recognized as God-glorifying Christian worship, but the sacrament in whatever context it is celebrated is exalted to the "centerpiece of Christian worship." That is a clear rejection of the Reformed confession that not the sacraments, but the preaching of the Word is the chief means of grace.
That PK makes serious concessions to Roman Catholicism is plain from the Roman Catholic endorsement of PK. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has promoted attendance at PK meetings in the Archdiocese paper, The Tidings. In an article assessing PK, a certain Father Christian Van Liefde states that there is "... no doctrinal issue (in PK) which should cause concern to the Catholic Church." (13). In the same article he expresses the judgment that PK will have a positive impact on local parish programs.
To a Reformed Christian, this cordial attitude toward Roman Catholicism is unacceptable. How can Reformed Christians participate in a movement that countenances Rome's evils? To a Reformed Christian the worship of Rome is an accursed idolatry and Rome is a false church.
"Promise #5: A Man and His Church. A PK is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources." Pastors and church leaders are praised and prayed for at PK gatherings. But the truth of the matter is that PK has a low view of the instituted church and is itself in competition with the church of Jesus Christ.
That is plain from the fact that PK views itself as a "ministry," a "men's ministry." PK engages in public teaching of the Word of God. PK employs men and women who are engaged full-time in the work of PK. And yet, this whole "ministry" stands outside of the church, is not supervised directly by the church, nor directly accountable to the church. PK is accountable to itself, its own Board of Directors. That makes PK a para-church organization.
God has given one organization the calling to engage in the public preaching of His Word. That organization is the church. God has given one organization the responsibility to evangelize sinners. That organization is the church. God has given one organization the duty to oversee the lives of the people of God. That organization is the church.
In the course of their lives the people of God make promises, solemn promises. But they do not make these promises before a human organization lately sprung up. And no human organization has the right to demand such promises from the people of God, whether a lodge, labor union, or PK.
There is one organization in which and before whom God's people speak the solemn promises that are a part of the Christian life. That organization is the church. Those solemn promises are the promises spoken by believers at confession of faith, marriage, and the baptism of their children.
Look once at the seven promises of a PK. No Reformed believer needs those seven promises. What there is of value in those seven promises, is included in the vows of confession of faith, Reformed marriage vows, and the vows of baptism.
The promises of a Reformed man, and a Reformed woman, for that matter, are promises made before God in the church..
Neither is it a surprise that there is such a charismatic influence in the PK movement. Bill McCartney and Randy Phillips, the president of PK, are both charismatic. They both are members of Vineyard Fellowship churches. The Vineyard Fellowship churches are not only charismatic, but radically charismatic.
The charismatic influence on PK is plain from the number of charismatics who serve on the Board of Directors of PK: Jack Hayford, Church on the Way; Dr. Jesse Miranda, Faith Tabernacle; George Morrison, Faith Bible Chapel; Bishop Phil Porter, All Nations Pentecostal Church Of God In Christ; James Ryle, Vineyard Christian Fellowship.
James Ryle is McCartney's own pastor. He is a "signs and wonders" advocate who claims that God continues to give him special revelation for the body of Christ. McCartney himself claims to be the recipient of special revelations. More than once he speaks of this in his autobiography, From Ashes to Glory.
Many well-known charismatic preachers are the featured speakers at the PK conferences.
In The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs, Jack Hayford promotes the charismatic view of the perpetuation of the extra-ordinary gifts of the Spirit. He writes:
A full study of the gifts of the Holy Spirit isn't possible in this book, but we must grasp two things: First, it is essential that each of us be informed and desirous of spiritual gifts.... Second, it is essential that each of us is open to the gifts the Holy Spirit wants to work in us. Becoming informed of the possibilities isn't difficult, and the pathway expressing our availability is scripturally clear. Such passages of Scripture as Romans 12:3-21 and I Corinthians 12:1-31 are replete with listings of spiritual gifts. They also discuss the mood, manner, and attitude that open most readily to the Holy Spirit's gifts and the atmosphere in which those gifts are best received and exercised. (14).The Reformed church takes issue with the charismatic movement. The Reformed Christian rejects the teaching of the charismatics concerning the continuation of the special gifts, the teaching of Divine revelation alongside of and superseding God's revelation in Scripture, and the worship practices of the charismatic churches. Repudiation of the charismatic movement compels the Reformed Christian to repudiate PK.
There is inconsistency here, so typical in Evangelical circles today. In some places and at certain times, PK spokesmen emphasize that salvation is emphatically by grace alone and not at all by man's works. They can also speak in strong terms of man's sinfulness. Dr Rod Cooper writes:
Total depravity means that the corruption of the Fall has extended to every part of our being. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, have ungodly thoughts, and do sinful deeds. Total depravity also means that because of that corruption, there is nothing man can do to merit saving favor with God. We are unable to save ourselves apart from the grace of God. Because of our depraved condition, Scripture says we are 'dead in trespasses and sins' (Eph. 2:1 NKJV). We are 'sold under sin' (Rom. 7:14 NKJV), and we are 'by nature children of wrath' (Eph. 2:3 NKJV). (15)But this is double-talk. What it gives with the right hand, PK takes back with the left hand.
How can it be otherwise? PK coddles Roman Catholicism. But Rome is an enemy of sovereign grace! PK utilizes speakers like Bill Bright and Luis Palau. But Bright and Palau are blatant Arminians! PK is heavily influenced by the modern charismatic movement. But the charismatics deny the sovereignty of God in salvation and teach that faith is in the ability of every man! Some of the leading figures in PK are proponents of "Christian Psychology." But their teaching of self-love, self-esteem, and self-improvement inveighs against the Reformed conception of the grace of God and the sinfulness of man.
In his speech at the PK rally in the Pontiac Silverdome in April of 1995, Bill McCartney defined the work of the Holy Spirit this way: "The Holy Spirit calls out the best that is in us." When I heard that statement over the radio, I wondered how any in our churches who were attracted to PK could continue to support this movement. This statement is not only unReformed; it is blasphemous. But still some will say, Reformed ministers will say, that they can find nothing anti-Reformed in PK. Do they have scales over their eyes?
But, alas, in this respect too PK is not the solution, but is itself a part of the problem. For all its emphasis on promise keeping in marriage and in the family, PK is weighed and found wanting. This is true for at least two reasons.
First, PK condones unbiblical divorce and remarriage. Multitudes of men at the PK conferences are encouraged to go home and live faithfully with their wives. But for many of these men, the wife they are encouraged to go home to and live faithfully with is their second or third wife. They are not called to break-off the unbiblical union and in repentance return to their original spouse. Instead their adultery is countenanced. Where is the promise keeping here?
This same attitude toward divorce and remarriage comes out in the PK literature. In Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, the story is told of John who was addicted to pornography. For this reason his first wife divorced him. When his second wife filed for divorce, he finally faced up to the ruinous consequences of pornography in his life, got the help he needed, and was reconciled to his second wife. (16). Nothing is said of the evil of his divorce from his first wife. No call to go back to her in an attempt to be reconciled to her. He simply picks up the pieces of his second marriage and goes on.
In the introduction to Randy Phillips writes:
So when you fail, get back up and keep moving toward becoming all God wants you to be. Some of you may feel you've made too many mistakes to ever recover. Perhaps you messed up a marriage and it cost you a divorce. Or maybe you got fired from a job, betrayed a friendship, or were caught breaking the law and had to serve some time. But we want you to remember that it's never too late to start over. God loves to give His children another chance. (17)The Power of a Promise Kept, relates stories of twelve different men influenced by PK, men who are "... choosing to live by the Seven Promises Of A Promise Keeper." (Taken from the back jacket of the book.) Several of these men are divorced and remarried, some of them several times.
When Jeff and Sheila Vaughn met and married more than their relationship--his second marriage, her third. (18).PK condones unbiblical divorce and remarriage. For this reason, its efforts to strengthen Christian marriages and families are misdirected. All the energy put forth is wasted energy. The most serious crack in the foundation is unattended. Worse, PK exposes itself to the anger of the God Who hates and prohibits unbiblical divorce and remarriage.
So Sam returned from that missions trip spiritually humbled and renewed. He was also ready to begin looking toward the future again--personally as well as professionally. He started dating a committed Christian woman he'd met through his church. Susan, too, had been healing from the emotional aftermath of a divorce from a spouse who had never shared her faith. They were both cautiously seeking someone who saw a serious Christian commitment as an essential part of any relationship. They hit it off from the start. (19).
Before Connie and Bud met, they had both known the pain and frustration of a failed marriage relationship. (20).
There is a second reason why I believe that PK undermines the Christian marriage and family.
In my judgment, PK promotes an unbiblical male bonding, a male bonding that violates the sanctity, the exclusiveness, and the intimacy of marriage.
There is a great deal of emphasis in PK on "mentoring."
Promise #2: A Man and His Mentors. A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few good men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
In his introduction to Randy Phillips writes:
The fact is, if you want to become all God wants you to be, you need at least one other Christian brother to help you get there. (21).Part of the PK program is involvement in small men's groups. These groups are encounter groups. In these groups men are asked pointed questions about their financial, social, spiritual, and sexual lives--no holds barred! They must open up and talk freely and frequently with these other men concerning the intimacies of their relationship with their wives.
This is a violation of the marriage bed, as much a violation as adultery itself. It is a betrayal of one's spouse and the exclusive relationship that one ought to have with that spouse.