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Can We Lutherans Promise To Stop Promoting 'Promise Keepers' From Now On?

Hot off the presses is this exciting news from my "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" LCMS church...


The Promise Keepers event scheduled for June 19-20 in Pittsburgh is rapidly approaching. We have heard from only a few that were interested, and need to make plans if there are men that definitely want to go. Cost is $79 for registration, plus travel expenses. If anyone has questions or know they would like to attend, please contact NAME or myself very soon. Thanks, NAME


Thankfully, "only a few" have expressed an interest at this point so I suppose that's a little reassuring.

Still, this is the kind of announcement that always deeply concerns me whether it's about an upcoming group trip to some conference or the next bestseller that everyone wants to study in small groups.

See, each and every time I see my dear brothers and sisters in Christ embracing and promoting popular Evangelical and non-Lutheran nonsense like "Promise Keepers" I can't help but to think of God's Word that says...


Hosea 4:6 (ESV) My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.


How can I not think of them in this case?

Ok, so what's so bad about the wildly popular "Promise Keepers" events, you ask?

Here's an excellent answer from Issues, Etc. featuring similar responses from a Lutheran, a Baptist, and a Reformed Christian...


"What Think Ye of The Promise Keepers?" 
Lutheran Seminary Professor Robert Newton, Baptist Pastor John Armstrong, and Reformed Theologian Kim Riddlebarger respond to the question.

Robert Newton: 
Law and Gospel are not always properly distinguished. While certain leaders do state clearly that a Christian's ability to "keep promises" rests not in themselves but in the Gospel of God, others, unfortunately, seem to view God's "promise keeping" for us not principally as the Gospel in which we live, but as Law, the model for us to emulate. 
The Gospel is also presented as essentially the starting place, rather than the staying place, for Christian growth. Author Geoff Gorsuch, for example, declares, "The cross is not the end of a search; it is the beginning of an adventure! To come to belief in God through the cross of Jesus Christ is only an introduction to all that men were intended to be." He goes on to explain the steps that lead on from the cross. "Too many groups. . . never get to exhortation . . . covenants and accountability. They never enter into the struggle for moral excellence together. The never really worship!" 
Gorsuch's desire that men be exhorted to live as Christians and that they strive together for moral excellence is appropriate and commendable. But exhortations, making promises, and being accountable do not themselves bring about Christian growth. Sooner or later we break our promises. The only promises that sustain the journey are those made by God in His son - unconditional love and forgiveness. 
Knowing Christ crucified is not merely where we begin our adventure; it is the adventure. 
God's commandments seem to be viewed by some in Promise Keepers as not only a guide or Christian growth, but a means for it, too . . . Scripture teaches, however, that transformation and motivation are effected solely by the Gospel. 
The Lutheran Witness, November 1995.

John Armstrong: 
Bill McCartney, the man who arguably came up with the Promise Keepers vision, has been a friend of mine for the past 15 years. During his days in Michigan we used to meet together two or three times a year. I used to do chapel services for his football team. When the Promise Keepers movement began in 1990 or '91, and began to get publicity, I watched it closely. It wasn't surprising to me, because it had been the growing vision of Bill to do something like this since the early 80's. 
The theological foundation upon which a movement that purports to be faithful to Scripture in its requirements for leadership for men in their homes and in society has to be evaluated by Scripture. This is not claimed to be a secular therapy movement for men of all religions who just want help to be better men. It claims to be a movement that is distinctly faithful to Christ. Although they say they are not a church, they are carrying on certain functions that are commissioned by Christ to the church and to minister of the Gospel. That's where a part of the confusion comes in. If Promises Keepers took the general position of simply being helpful to men with no religious overtones, and provide a social function to help people, that would be one thing. But they claim to be deeply committed to Christ. The first promise is that "a Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to God's Word in the power of the Spirit." The movement is distinctly claiming to be a movement in the name of Christ, and thus in the name of truth, His Word. You must discern the movement on the basis of its own claims. It claims to be a movement that seeks to honor Jesus Christ, so we must seek to discover whether it does so on the basis of the Word of God. 
The whole idea of "promise keeping" raises some questions with me because it is used in the language of covenant. When you make a promise to a covenant, such as marriage, to break that covenant is a most serious offense. These men are engaging in covenantal language, perhaps unwittingly, and they are being led to make promises which at best are vaguely general.

Kim Riddlebarger: 
What people must understand, coming at Promise Keepers from a confessional, Protestant perspective, I am bound as a minister of the Gospel in the Christian Reformed Church to evaluate all movements in the light of Scripture, and as Scripture is summarized through the confessions of my church. Therefore, I am going to have theological problems with Promise Keepers. I must make a clear distinction between the good that the movement accomplishes and what is being taught, or what is the ideology that underlies the Promise Keepers. 
Promise Keepers claims to be a Christian movement, but in the movement, ethics have completely superseded theology. The movement is based upon an ancient heresy, Pelagianism, that argues that if God commands us to do something in Scripture, we have the ability to do it. Ought implies can. If something ought to be done, it means it can be done, because you have the ability to do it. If Scripture commands us to do something, does that mean we can do it? Promise Keepers assumes "yes" while the Bible clearly tells us that God's Law is a revelation of his will and shows us our need for a Savior. 
I grew up a dispensationalist Evangelical where it was argued that we were in the age of grace and no longer under the age of law. Some famous dispensational writer would say, "since we are not under law, this was the Old Testament, now we are under grace." That raises the question: What do we do about ethics and morals? The answer, "Let's live by principles of grace." These "principles of grace" basically became Evangelical "house rules" or new laws. The Seven Promises are a mixture of things in Scripture and things that are kind of the Evangelical house rules. These now supersede the Ten Commandments. Evangelicals do not understand the Law/Gospel distinction. 
Those of us who are "confessional Christians," in that we subscribe to confessional statements such as the unaltered Augsburg Confession or the Westminster Confessions, have a problem with the Promise Keepers. Evangelicals look at us as if we have three eyes, because our confessions define our "house rules" They define them as the Law of God. Our inability to keep the Law of God or the Christian "house rules," which are a revelation of the will of God, shows us that we must have a Savior who, not only can pay for the guilt of our sin every time we break the Law of God, but who can keep the Law of God so that his Law-keeping can be reckoned or imputed to me to cover my Law-breaking.


I hope that helps you to better understand why we Lutherans (any Christian, for that matter) should be concerned about the type of message promoted by Promise Keepers.

As one Christian wrote back in 2008...


Promise Keepers and other ecumenical organizations are calling for the breaking down of denominational barriers. At the Promise Keepers Clergy Conference in Atlanta in February 1996, the more than 39,000 pastors attending were urged to commit themselves to the “Atlanta Covenant.” One of the points of this seven-part document urged pastors to reach beyond racial and DENOMINATIONAL barriers. Former football coach Bill McCartney, who came out of retirement in August 2008 to lead Promise Keepers again, made the following statement at this meeting: “Contention between denominations has gone on long enough. If the church ever stood together, Almighty God would have his way.” 
This ecumenical thinking apparently sounds good to this itching-ear generation (2 Timothy 4:4-6), but it ignores the wretchedly apostate condition of a great many of the denominations. 
Modernism has permeated the mainline denominations. Any call, therefore, to breach denominational barriers today, is a call to yoke together truth with error and is an open denial of the biblical doctrine of separation.


Obviously, such a proclamation by Promise Keepers is a problem, isn't it?

Quoting from Rev. Rolf Preus's paper "Luther Revisited: The Doctrine of Justification Is Still The Issue" is this gem that also speaks of the dangers inherent in such a group and their gatherings...


"The doctrine of church fellowship is not a matter of submitting to rules determined by the democratic processes of the synod to which we belong. It is a matter of confessing the pure gospel by which we sinners are saved from hell. The unionistic spirit is utterly incompatible with the Christian gospel. It holds the righteousness of Christ in contempt. We condemn religious unionism because we love the gospel of justification by faith alone. Why do Lutheran pastors promote participation in the Promise Keepers or similar organizations? Because they don't have enough rules on how to apply the doctrine of church fellowship? Of course not. They do it because they don't value the righteousness of Christ. If they did, they would teach their members to mark and avoid such gatherings. Find a preacher who preaches Christ, His person, His work, His atonement, His righteousness reckoned to us, the forgiveness of sins, all within the context of preaching the law without any compromise, and you'll find someone opposed to religious unionism. The same faith which receives the righteousness of Jesus with which God clothes us is the faith which rejects the unionistic spirit of doctrinal indifference. The reason a Lutheran marks and avoids false doctrine and refuses to worship with those who don't is not because he has been sufficiently indoctrinated in his church's rules. Rather, it's a simple matter of love and hate. If you hate something, you don't express fellowship with it. If you love the pure teaching by which God has saved you, you hate the false teaching which can damn you. And it is just this love for the gospel of justification that will find in every other article of Christian teaching the same golden thread of the righteousness of the God-man which covers us and renders us fit to enter into eternal life. Nothing is worth teaching, preaching, defending, or confessing, except for the sake of this truth which glorifies God as it reveals his mercy to poor, lost, undeserving sinners like you and me and thus saves us eternally."


The emphases in bold are all my own. The Word of God is clear though and needs no help from me on this topic.


Romans 16:17-18 (ESV) 17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.


My Lutheran Study Bible says about this passage...


"Paul warns against those who cause divisions and promises God will overcome them. Those who advocate a false Gospel are to be avoided entirely. Unlike Paul, false teachers snare hearers with false praise (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6). Unnamed people divided the Church from within, probably along Jew/Gentile lines. No false teaching is acceptable for God's Church, whether it contradicts the Law or the Gospel. As in Galatians, believers are to reject any false teachings and refuse to associate with those who advocate them. Some have applied this to any and every different teaching, but here it refers specifically to issues that strike at the heart of the Gospel. Heavenly Father, guard and protect Your Church from all who would corrupt Your precious Gospel. As we await the final consummation of our salvation, may our obedience to Your will be 'known to all' around us. Amen."


At the end of the day, there's actually an eye-opening study in contrasts here if were only willing to look and then prayerfully consider it.

The upcoming Promise Keepers event mentioned in my church's email is going to be held on June 19th-June 20th for $79/person. Wouldn't you much rather prefer to attend a distinctly Lutheran conference on the very same days instead, especially if you call yourself a Lutheran?

Sure, it's a little more expensive than attending Promise Keepers, but you'll be fed some truly Christ-centered, cross-focused messages from some real Pastors (Lutheran ones too!).


The 2015 Issues, Etc. "Making The Case" Conference 


I guess your preference will depend on your desire to have Christ truly at the center of the conference or if you want Him to be more of a "Co-Pilot" Who helps you to achieve your "promises" in this life.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, can we Lutherans just promise to stop promoting Promise Keepers from now on?



NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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