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New Horizons

A Look at Promise Keepers

G. I. Williamson

An organization called Promise Keepers has been much in the news lately for attracting large crowds of men to its gatherings. But what is Promise Keepers (PK)?

PK is a parachurch movement that was founded five years ago by former football coach Bill McCartney. The first organized meeting in 1991 drew some 4,000 men. The following year there were 22,000. And this year there were 61,000 in the Minneapolis Metrodome alone—one of thirteen sites across the nation. Next year the number of meetings is expected to double, and there is talk of a million-man rally in Washington in 1997.

But what does PK stand for? The answer is found in "The Seven Promises" (see sidebar). There are some good things in this statement. In spite of them, however, it is my conviction that the movement is not only unacceptable, but in fact a serious threat to the honor of Christ and the well-being of his church.

First of all, PK (like so many parachurch organizations) usurps the prerogatives that our Lord has given only to his church. It is for this reason that the historic church has always been concerned about doctrine. It is not clear which Jesus PK is committed to honoring. And that is by design. It seeks to break down doctrinal (denominational) barriers. But any movement today that seeks unity without a confessional basis is dangerous.

Is it God's will that we should worship and pray with idolaters? Our Confession says Roman Catholics are idolaters (WCF, 24.3). Yet many of them are involved in PK. And what about members of cults (such as Mormons) and apostate denominations? They are involved, too. Can Reformed Christians rejoice in fellowship with such? We think not. Yet it is precisely this that PK promotes. For this reason alone we predict that the PK will—in the end—do far more harm than good.

But that is not all. You will also notice that PK is committed "to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises." It is certainly true that we all need help in keeping our promises. That is why God himself has provided overseers—elders—to watch over the flock (Acts 20). But where has he commissioned men to just take this task upon themselves, and to do it with "a few other men"?

The answer is clear: PK has no authorization from the Lord to promote this usurpation of one of the primary functions of the organized church. Nowhere in the Word of God do we find authorization for a special movement for men only. Nowhere do we find authorization for Coach McCartney to assume the role of spiritual leader for thousands. And nowhere do we find authorization for a special cell-type relationship with a few other men. No, what Christ has authorized is the communion and fellowship of the body of Christ, organized under the oversight of elders chosen by the people and ordained by the church.

I asked a man who belongs to a church here in northwest Iowa, where PK has become the "in thing," one simple question: "If your church was still exercising the discipline that it did some forty years ago, do you think PK would be needed, or even popular with so many of these men?" He lowered his eyes and replied, "No, I don't think so."

And this is the bottom line. We make our most solemn promises—in the form of sacred vows—before the congregation when we are married by the pastor, when we bring our children to be baptized, and when officers are ordained and installed. The fact that PK is such a felt need by so many confused people today is symptomatic of the abysmal failure of the church to be and do what Christ has commanded her to be and do!

The remedy for the depressed state of the church today will not come by way of human inventions. It will only come when there is a new Reformation—a return to the institutions of Christ—and the restoration of scriptural discipline in the church.

Mr. Williamson, a retired OP pastor, serves on the Committee on Christian Education and the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 1996.

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