What’s Wrong with the Promise Keepers Movement?

By Wayne Jackson

Stockton, California has been one of the roughest cities on the West Coast. It’s had a significant crime rate—one of the highest in the nation. And it’s been a major “drug hub” for the West. One can imagine, therefore, that a great sigh of relief went up from Stockton’s religious community last weekend when thirty-five thousand weeping, praying, hand-holding men descended upon the city. It was the Promise Keepers (hereafter known as PK) convention.

According to literature distributed by the PK officials, the idea for this movement was born in March of 1990, when Bill McCartney, then head football coach for the University of Colorado, and his friend, Dave Wardell, were driving from Denver to Pueblo, Colorado. Subsequently, a group of men organized to form a plan to rejuvenate “Christian” men with a new spiritual emphasis. Everything came together eventually, and in 1993, PK was born.

Huge rallies are conducted periodically in various parts of the country, and thousands of men travel (sometimes great distances) to attend. They generally pay a $55 registration fee, which provides several services.

The PK philosophy is based upon the premise that “Christian growth begins by making promises.” Seven of these promises are extracted from disciples of the PK movement. They are as follows:

  1. A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to his Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
  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 the church by honoring and praying for his pastor and by actively giving his 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 (Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

“How in the world,” some wonder, “could anyone who honors the teaching of Jesus Christ not be thrilled with proposals such as these?”

No one, who is honest with the evidence, is going to deny that there are some good motives and aspirations in these premises. But that is not the entire picture. These platform planks, together with other literature from this “ministry,” reveal some astounding errors—errors so serious that they cannot be ignored.

No sensitive person takes any pleasure in having to expose the fallacies of a movement that attracts so many sincere men who want better things for their families. But, as unlikely as it may seem to the superficial Bible student, the ideology of the PK phenomenon is seriously flawed in several significant particulars. This brief article is not intended to be a detailed review of the flaws of PK. Rather, we call attention to but four of the false ideas promoted by the administration of this organism.

1. The PK leaders contend for a supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit—when no such experience is available today. While miraculous revelation and signs were a part of the apostolic experience in the first century, those wonders were removed from the church’s possession when the New Testament canon was completed (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). (See our article on Miracles.)

Today, there is not one fact that anyone knows about the character of God, the life and work of Jesus Christ, the gospel, or what God’s will for man is, except that which is learned from the Bible. No person has ever been discovered in any remote region of the earth who knows anything of these matters, if he has been totally isolated from the influence of the written Word.

And yet the PK literature suggests just the reverse of this. It is even contended that “the idea for Promise Keepers was planted in the heart” of Bill McCartney (emphasis added). By whom? Do ideas exist apart from words or other communicative symbols? If they do not, might not one then conclude that Mr. McCartney claims a divine revelation for the origin of PK?

2. The PK administrators have no respect for the New Testament concept of the church of Jesus Christ. In the first century there were no denominations. There was “one body” (1 Corinthians 12:20; Ephesians 4:4), and that body was the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18, 24). Denominationalism is an apostate aberration that originated centuries after the cessation of divine revelation (2 Thessalonians 2:1ff; 1 Timothy 4:1ff). The PK organization asserts an ecumenical theory regarding the church that is entirely contrary to New Testament doctrine.

The PK system, therefore, does not promote genuine biblical unity; rather, it fosters sectarian division. It is strikingly at variance with the prayer of Jesus (John 17:20-21), and the admonition of the Lord’s apostle (1 Corinthians 1:10). The PK philosophy of “support your local denomination” is completely misdirected.

3. The PK emphasis on male togetherness, as a formalized movement, finds no scriptural sanction. In Christ, we are neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28).

What if someone aspires to establish an all-white movement, designated as the Caucasian Covenant Keepers? The outcry would be vociferous—and rightly so! If a para-church movement, segregated along racial lines, is unacceptable, where is the value in gender exclusion in pursuing spiritual goals? PKism is a fad with no biblical basis.

4. The PK dogma is wholly at odds with New Testament teaching relative to the plan of redemption. Advocates of “PK-ology” promote the so-called Sinner’s Prayer. They allege that salvation occurs the instant the following words are mouthed: “God, I confess to you that I am a sinner. And, through faith, I invite your Son into my heart this very moment, to save my soul.”

Though many who offer such a petition are unquestionably sincere, there is no New Testament precedent for this sort of prayer. Moreover, in spite of explicit biblical evidence to the contrary, PK officials are adamant that immersion in water has nothing to do with one’s salvation (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). This is nothing short of heresy.

Finally, this query must be raised: in view of the foregoing (and much more), how could anyone—who possesses a fundamental level of Bible knowledge—endorse or support the PK enterprise? And yet some, who should have known better, have done so. It is to their shame.

We do not question the pure motives of thousands of men who are seeking some enhancement for their family relationships. We do affirm, however—and emphatically so—that Promise Keepers is not the answer. We are sufficiently “rooted and builded up” in our relationship with Christ (Colossians 2:6-7), and his divine organism, the church.

Small f26f621c f6aa 4d2b 853d 24e53c812a17

About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.