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Promise Keepers Keeps on Keeping On

by Albert James Dager


So far, 1996 has proven to be another banner year for Promise Keepers, whose steady growth continues to amaze both supporters and detractors. The highlight of the season was the clergy conference held in Atlanta, Georgia, February 13-15. Although attendance was considerably less than the 75,000 clergy that Promise Keepers had hoped to draw (about 39,000 attended), it was still considered a huge success by PK leadership.

Promise Keepers went to great lengths to insure that as many pastors as possible attended. Some 1,000 pastors of ethnic minorities were given financial aid to attend. In spite of this, there was a relatively poor showing of such pastors. This has been a sore spot for Promise Keepers, whose focus has been to bring about reconciliation of the races (as if true believers in Christ could be racists.) The call went out for all Promise Keepers to encourage their pastors to attend, regardless of their ethnic background. In fact, so adamant was Promise Keepers that as many clergy as possible attend the conference, Bill McCartney stated that if a pastor did not want to attend, he had to give the reason why.

What audacity! Who is Promise Keepers that any pastor who chooses not to join with them must give his reasons? Is Promise Keepers the new Magesterium for the Church at large? Have they set themselves up as indispensable? The theme for the clergy conference was "Fan Into Flame," with the stated purpose to break down racial and denominational barriers in the churches. This, in fact, is the purpose of all twenty-two Promise Keepers conferences 1996, which are meeting under the banner, "Break Down the Walls."

Almost from the beginning, Promise Keepers has pushed its agenda for dissolving the barriers of denominationalism. This has been approached without regard to sound doctrine in spite of Promise Keepers statements that doctrine must be the unifying factor for all involved. The problem is that Promise Keepers has not been willing to define what sound doctrine is beyond the basic tenets of the Faith. As a result, it has succeeded in gaining the approval of churches from within virtually every denomination, plus Mormons and Roman Catholic priests.

This was in clear evidence at the clergy conference where founder Bill McCartney encouraged the pastors to enter into a blood covenant. Ralph G. Colas, Executive Secretary for the American Council of Christian Churches (not affiliated with the NCC or WCC), wrote an eyewitness account in the ACCC Challenge for April 1996:

A major thrust McCartney gave was, "Commitment is seen in discipleship and a 'blood covenant.' The blood covenant means to be bound in speech and action with all who are in this covenant. This covenant is stronger than family and denominational ties." He then asked, "How strong is your commitment to the blood? Do you agree?" This was followed by an ear-piercing shout of "We all agree!" from the 40,000 clergy.'

What was McCartney talking about when he brought up a blood covenant? The idea of a blood covenant is not biblical; it is rooted in pagan spiritual practices whereby two people would cut themselves and mingle their blood in order to form a bond stronger than family ties. He cannot rightly mean this to be the New Covenant in Jesus blood. There is only one covenant into which the believer enters, and that is what forms the basis for the Church as a whole. But McCartney's idea of a blood covenant is to accept everyone who calls himself born again without regard to beliefs and practices that are contrary to Scripture which contains the essentials for entering into God's covenant.

In other words, God's Word contains the truths by which we bind ourselves to Him and to other true believers. We cannot bind ourselves to those who believe and act contrary to His Word. By accepting the validity of the Roman Catholic priesthood and all the doctrines and practices that accompany it (transubstantiation, salvation by the works of the Roman Catholic sacramental system, rejection of former Catholics as eternally damned, the equality with Scripture of Roman Catholic tradition and the authority of its priesthood, etc.), McCartney was asking the "clergy" to enter into a blood covenant with false teachers. And the amazing thing is that they heartily agreed! What does this say about the discernment and spiritual condition of so many "clergy."

The very idea of a clergy conference is itself antithetical to biblical truth. There is no clergy class found in Scripture; it was an invention of Roman Catholicism and has been maintained through the Protestant churches. The concept is that of a priesthood separate from the priesthood of all believers.

We agree that there are administrations within the local body of believers--the elders and deacons of the fellowship. But even they stand to be judged in their teachings and practices by every member of the congregation on the basis of conformity or non-conformity to Scripture, By pandering to the "clergy" of the nation's churches, Promise Keepers perpetuates the priesthood class that has erected a serious barrier to the most important fellowship -that between the individual believer and his heavenly Father.

This is the basis for God's true covenant--the relationship of God as our Father, not merely a transcendent Supreme Being. This is how He was revealed by Jesus. While wanting to break down the barriers between denominations, Promise Keepers is acting to keep intact the barrier that Jesus died to remove. Another flaw in the Promise Keepers "Break Down the Walls" philosophy is the idea that Roman Catholicism is just another denomination. In fact, however, Roman Catholicism is an entirely different religious system than instituted by Christ. This is part and parcel of the great ecumenical deception initiated by the Roman Catholic Church.

According to the Vatican II position, the only valid ecumenism a Roman Catholic can enter into is that which works for the benefit of Roman Catholicism. All ecumenical efforts on the part of Roman Catholics -- especially priests, bishops and cardinals, as well as the pope himself -- must be with the intent to bring all professing Christians under the papal umbrella. To do this it has been necessary to pass Roman Catholicism off as just another Christian denomination -at least in non-Catholic countries.

It is truly disheartening to witness so many "clergy" not only unaware or unconcerned about this grand deception, but heartily agreeing to be a part of it through Promise Keepers.

At the clergy conference, Max Lucado spoke against division and competition in church groups. His plea was for dissolving the differences between Catholic and Protestant. Said Lucado:

"The step to unity is acceptance and no longer to speak evil of one another. Would it not be wonderful not to be known as either Protestant or Catholic? This is a God-sized dream and no one in our generation has ever seen the Church united." Lucado then pled that every clergyman who had ever spoken against another group or denomination, find a member of that group and apologize. Steve Green then belted out repeatedly, "Let the walls come down." The 40,000 ministers shouted, whistled, clapped, and cheered as they worked to a higher and higher fever pitch of emotion.2

It's one thing to speak evil about a person; it's another thing to speak evil about an organization. But what, exactly, constitutes speaking evil, anyway? Is it speaking evil to warn the brethren that a wolf in sheep's clothing is in their midst? Is it a special kind evil to expose the unbiblical teachings and practices of a false religious system?

To equate challenging false teachings with speaking "evil" is to call evil good and good evil--a sin that begs severe retribution from God:

Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21)

In defense of their position, Promise Keepers has stated that it isn't within their scope of ministry to deal with false teachings; it is only their desire to bring men together in covenant relationships. But if it isn't within their scope of ministry to deal with false teachings, why is it within their scope of ministry to discourage exposing false teachers? If it isn't within their scope of ministry to deal with false teachings, how can they guarantee that the covenant relationships into which they bring men will not be tainted with spiritual error? And what business do they have calling themselves a Christian organization if they do not feel compelled to defend sound doctrine?

Without regard to sound doctrine, Lucado's admonition to find someone of a denomination against which one has spoken would require apologies to Roman Catholic priests. For what? Exposing the errors of their religious system? Rather, should they not apologize for foisting that system upon their innocent members through fear? Must we forget the martyrs' blood spilt by popes, cardinals and bishops over the centuries? Must we forget the persecution of our brethren in countries heavily dominated by Roman Catholicism? Must we forget the present pope's declared war against our brethren in Latin America and other Catholic countries? My covenant with them through the blood of Christ forbids it.


Another area that has seen new developments is Promise Keepers' response to those inquiring about their position or Robert Hicks' book, The Masculine Journey. Because of the nature of the book, as we and others have reported, Promise Keepers came under considerable fire for having co-published and distributed it for over two years. As a consequence they discontinued promoting the book but sent out a seven-page letter defending Hicks' position. As of late, however, they have stopped sending out the eight page defense and are taking a new tack of avoiding any discussion. Their latest response, in its entirety, is as follows:

Several passages in The Masculine Journey by Robert Hicks (1993, NavPress) could be understood in more than one way. Some of the content of the book has unfortunately lent itself to a wide range of interpretations and responses involving theological issues which Promise Keepers does not feel called to resolve. These are controversies which neither Promise Keepers nor the author could have foreseen, and which have proven to be a distraction from the focus of our ministry. Therefore, Promise Keepers has discontinued marketing and distributing The Masculine Journey. At the same time, we believe Mr. Hicks's core theology is consistent with orthodox evangelical Christianity, and that The Masculine Journey was a forthright attempt on his part to deal with male issues from a biblical context.

The theological foundation for the ministry of Promise Keepers is found in our Statement of Faith, Our Mission Statement and "Seven Promises" serve as our guiding objectives. All three documents are attached. Other resources produced by Promise Keepers include Christian music cassettes and CD's, teaching video tapes, and books and Bible studies, including: The Seven Prornises of a Promise Keeper (Focus on the Family Publishing, 1994), The Power of a Promise Kept (Focus on the Family, 1995), Go the Distance (Focus on the Family, 1996), Strategies for a Successful Marriage by E, Glenn Wagner, Ph.D. (NavPress, 1994), What God Does When Men Pray by William Peel (NavPress, 1993), Daily Disciplines for the Christian Man by Dr. Bob Beltz (NavPress, ]993), and others. It is our hope and prayer that Promise Keepers resources will continue to help men become promise keepers in the context of their local church.

The letter is sent out through Steve Chavis, Manager of Public Relations. That's it. Promise Keepers doesn't believe it is called to resolve the problems created by The Masculine Journey even though they co-published it and distributed it free of charge to some 50,000 men. They insist that, as far as they are concerned, the book is "consistent with orthodox evangelical Christianity." What does orthodoxy and today's evangelical Christianity have to do with being biblical? Orthodoxy is nothing more than a blend of biblical truth and human tradition, and may change over the course of time. At one time it was "orthodox" to believe that the earth was the center of the universe. This was not a scientific issue, but a theological issue over which men were dealt with severely for daring to challenge that belief. Orthodoxy is truth as determined by religious councils; while it is not always wrong, it is often biblically illiterate.

The Masculine Journey is not consistent with true evangelicalism; it is consistent with new evangelicalism -- the homogenized blending of everything deemed by religious politicians as politically correct. And where is the integrity in Promise Keepers' position? They still believe The Masculine Journey's content, but they aren't willing to continue distributing it. There is more integrity exhibited when someone, even if in error, stands by his convictions in spite of the controversy. If one has the truth, one need not fear the repercussions of standing by the truth. It is only when someone lacks integrity that they bail ship on those they've promised to uphold as they did Hicks when they published The Masculine Journey. In fact, Hicks has voiced his displeasure with Promise Keepers for distancing themselves from his book.


On October 26, 1995, I met with Dan Erickson, the Western Regional Director for Promise Keepers, and with Doug Engburg, their Washington State Director. The meeting was arranged by Leif Moi, who hosts Street Talk on KGNW in Seattle. Leif had spoken with Mr. Erickson on the subject of my report, and suggested that we meet. He maintained a good degree of objectivity throughout the meeting. Both Dan Erickson and Doug Engburg were cordial yet adamant in their position that I had misjudged Promise Keepers.

I must admit that as I waited for our meeting to begin, I was filled with some trepidation. What was I getting into, meeting with two men who were obviously displeased with my position on their organization. I bathed the situation in prayer for days before, and even up to the time of the meeting. As soon as the meeting began, the trepidation fled. Even as they objected to my position I sensed the Holy Spirit's control, and I was emboldened to answer their concerns without hesitation. For over two hours we discussed my disagreements with Promise Keepers. (Doug Engburg had to leave about forty-five minutes into the meeting.)

Areas of concern that I brought up were Promise Keepers' strong ecumenical stand, it's Psychological integration, it's unbiblical approach to male leadership a la Gary Smalley, and various other problems. As the meeting came to a close due to another commitment of Mr. Erickson, he did suggest that my concerns were legitimate, and he promised to voice them to the Board of Directors. To date I've not heard whether my concerns were acted upon, but outwardly I've seen very little change in Promise Keepers' position.


Promise Keepers has begun to stress from the platform of its conferences the need for unity based on sound doctrine. To this we must give a hearty agreement. In practice, however, they continue to stress the need for unity without regard to denominational differences, evidently considering of no consequence the differences between Roman Catholic doctrine and biblical truth. Anyone can say they believe in sound doctrine -- they may even hold belief in sound biblical doctrine--but when they so vociferously tell us not to judge the doctrine of others, their insistence on sound doctrine rings hollow. As James says, "the devils also believe, and tremble" James 2:19). Mental assent to truth is insufficient for salvation or for service of God. Genuine, heartfelt assent to truth manifests itself in a willingness to stand firm against the feel-good efforts of others to compromise the truth. We must be willing to offend those we love if we hope to minister to them God's way of salvation and sanctification. There can be no sanctification at the expense of truth or if cowardice compels one to overlook error for the sake of unity.

Promise Keepers' new stress on doctrine as the basis of unity is overshadowed by its willingness to compromise doctrine for the sake of unity. And that compromise is being spread to thousands of churches through the Promise Keepers agenda. It is also overshadowed by the fact that its top leadership are members of the Vineyard, which holds some serious doctrinal errors itself. (See our special report, The Vineyard: Doctrines & Practices.)


As time passes, we expect Promise Keepers to reveal more and more the philosophical beliefs of its founders. This means more leaning toward the Vineyard belief system and stronger cooperation with Roman Catholic priests. Plans are already afoot to bring Promise Keepers to the Jesuit community in Steubenville, Ohio, for a conference. With Promise Keepers' emphasis on ecumenical unity, the question arises why there are no Roman Catholic priests on the PK Board of Directors.

Is Promise Keepers merely biding its time until the leadership feels that the general mood among the churches would be conducive to bringing the Vatican's agents into its ranks? Time will tell, of course, but it must seem hypocritical to some that Promise Keepers claims to make no distinction among Catholics and Protestants, yet has no Catholics among its leadership. This is a legitimate question since Bill McCartney, in his book, From Ashes to Glory, speaks glowingly of his Roman Catholic background, and asserts that he still believes much as a Roman Catholic. He did not leave Roman Catholicism as much as he joined James Ryle's Vineyard fellowship because it was meeting his needs at the time.

Lyndi and I continued attending services at Pastor Ryle's church, and each time we went we felt more comfortable there. I was soon to be forty-nine years old and here I was, drifting away from the church of my childhood, yet knowing in my heart that I had a closer and more meaningful relationship with God. I never had the feeling I was discarding or even rejecting all that I had been taught, nor ignoring all the good that had come from being a regular and often a daily communicant. But God's message was clear. Pastor Ryle was touching my heart in a special way. I was growing as a Christian and thirsting after the knowledge that comes only from being immersed in God's word. 3

We don't question McCartney's sincerity. But he has placed his trust in a religious philosophy almost as aberrant as that of the Roman Catholic Church. Certainly Ryle has not challenged McCartney's beliefs as a Roman Catholic. But why should he? The Vineyard philosophy forms the basis of the Promise Keepers philosophy when it comes to doctrine: beyond the basics, it doesn't matter what one believes or practices, even if those beliefs and practices defacto nullify the basic tenets of the Faith.

It is often said among Christians who wish to avoid controversy that we must hold others accountable only to the basic doctrines of the Faith -- the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His death for the atonement of sins, His bodily resurrection, the existence of heaven and hell -- everything else must be left to the individual's conscience. But if this is the case, why do we have the whole counsel of God given to us? There is more to the Faith than the offering of fire insurance. Everything God has revealed in His Word is important to our growth and service to Him. Otherwise we are unprofitable servants.

Satan has persuaded a large majority of today's church leadership to believe that there are gray areas to the Faith. This has resulted in a weak Christianity that is impotent when it comes to leading others to Christ and discipling them according God's truth. This doesn't mean that these leaders are all lost; it means they are ineffective shepherds whose sheep are falling victim to wolves in sheep's clothing. We may think this is of little consequence when compared to the doctrine of salvation, but it cannot really be separated from the doctrine of salvation. Jesus did not come merely to save us from hell, but to make us citizens of heaven--to give us the power to overcome the evil of the world. In the name of unity, the evil of the world is stunting the growth of the Church and wreaking spiritual havoc in its midst. And in the process, Promise Keepers may be the greatest ecumenical deception in the history of the Church.


1. Ralph G Colas, 1996 Clergy Conference For Men -- Theme: "Fan lnto Flame." The ACCC Challenge, Vol. 2. No, 2. April, ]996, p. 2. The ACCC Challenge is available from the American Council of Chrisrian Churches, F.O. Box 19, Wallingford, PA 19086-0019… Phone: (610) 566-8154. Donations are appreciated (The ACCC is not affiliated with the National Council of Churches or the World Council of Churches.)

2. Ibid., p. 3.

3. Bill McCartney, Froom Aslles fo Glory (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), p… 47.

Albert James Dager's Media Spotlight

Aug. 1996

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