Thanks to Pastor Mark Perry of Westerville Bible Church, I am able to present this reprint of an article, “Storm the Gates,” I wrote back in 2002 for the OBF Visitor. Although the event happened six years ago, I believe the conclusions would still apply to the program and methods of Promise Keepers today.
Promise Keepers—you have heard the name. It is an ecumenical organization which seeks to minister to men. I never expected to visit one of its meetings. However, the Editor of the Visitor asked me to attend the recent Promise Keepers rally at Gund Arena in Cleveland and to write a report for the paper. Thus began my ecumenical experience. The mission statement of the group states that it is, “dedicated to igniting and uniting men to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ through effective communication of the Seven Promises.” With such good intentions how could anyone speak against it? The answer became quite evident during my visit.
It was Friday evening, July 26, 2002. I entered Gund Arena (the basketball and hockey venue for Cleveland) through the milling crowd and found a seat on the main floor. Rock music was blaring over the public address system. To the right of the podium on the stage were drums, electric guitars, keyboards, and microphones. To the left was a mock stone wall with a large wooden gate. The theme for the conference was, “Storm the Gates.” It was loosely based on Matthew 16:18. Peter was a featured character. Before the formal program began the staff led the crowd in a cheering competition. Each side of the arena sought to out-decibel the other. The cheer was, “We love Jesus, yes, we do. We love Jesus. How about you?”
The program began with the Maranatha Promise Band bringing the audience to its feet with a loud rock song. Everyone, except me, stood and clapped to the music. Many waved their hands with their eyes closed. The song was filled with repetitive phrases, the main one being, “Let the glory of the Lord rise above us.” At the end of the number everyone applauded. The words seemed to be known by most everyone as the audience sang along. To help the rest of us there were huge projection screens on either side. Hands were raised all over the auditorium and cheers filled the air after each number. Outward praise to the Lord was encouraged to be offered by applause and cheering. One number was a contemporary rendition of the hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” It was accompanied by a loud bass guitar and what sounded like an electric church organ. Halfway through the song, the drums and guitars joined in for a very loud rock song. The singing was led by four men at the front of the stage.
The master of ceremonies was a man named Reggie Dabbs. During his introduction he announced that the conference was being broadcasted over the internet. I looked around for the nearest camera and found one pointed directly at me. I tried to look small. After the introduction, the band led the crowd in, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” accompanied by arena-shaking, rock music. The crowd was encouraged to jump to its feet and worship the Lord. Most everyone joined in by standing and clapping to the music. Another song was led by a man with an acoustic guitar who repeated the phrase, “You are holy,” many times. The rest of the instruments soon drowned out the guitar. The key clause was repeated about fifteen times in a row near the end of the song. The energy with which the leaders “worshiped” was contagious to the crowd and the audience participated with all its might. The atmosphere was definitely charismatic.
Then came an impressive video about the apostle Peter. It was professionally done and portrayed different events in the life of Peter. When it ended, the real actor appeared, carrying a wooden cross around the arena. As he walked, he quoted the entire book of 1 Peter. They then stripped him of his outer garment and acted out his crucifixion. The actor pleaded with the crowd to live for Jesus and to die for him. It was a very moving presentation.
A Cloudy Gospel
Luis Palau, the ecumenical evangelist, was the first speaker. He read from Colossians 2:13–15, and gave several lengthy illustrations about the change God had made in the lives of men he had led to Christ. At one point in the message he stated, “I know that most of you are Catholics or Protestants.” He had an opportunity to state the error associated with the false Roman Catholic system of works-righteousness but chose to cloak the gospel in something that would not offend them.
Palau went on to say that this change does not happen until you say there is something missing in your life, He suggested the words, “I have sinned against God. I am empty. There is something wrong. But God says I want to storm into your life and make you a complete man. But God will not kick in the gate of your heart, you must let him.” He said that the power that raised Jesus from the dead will then, “come into your life and be yours.” I understood what he meant but the unsaved people in the audience did not get a clear presentation of the gospel. I hoped that the message would be presented more clearly during the conference; but, it was not.
At the beginning of the event, pastors and lay workers were encouraged to meet in a particular place to get instructions about the altar calls. If you wanted to help you were to meet at that location. I did not go but afterward wished that I had. I wonder how they determined who was qualified, and if Catholic priests were allowed to participate.
Luis Palau’s invitation addressed the need for change. He made statements about salvation such as, “If you let him into your heart, the change will take place. If you want to be, say to God, ‘Make me pure and help me not do these bad things any more.’ Then. . . get right with God.” He then referred to Jesus knocking at the heart’s door (Rev. 3:20). He suggested the words, “Right now, I surrender body, soul and spirit. Clean the slate. Come and storm into my life. Make me the man I was supposed to be.”
Hundreds of people came forward for the invitation. The speaker asked the audience to pray a prayer out loud with him. It was to be prayed by those who wanted to know Christ and by those who already knew him. He then spoke a group prayer which the crowd repeated with him before turning the microphone over to the emcee. Reggie Dabbs was very happy about the many people who had responded to the invitation. After acknowledging that the men had come forward to talk with someone about salvation, he emphatically stated, “You are born again. You are changed.” The audience applauded what had happened. I am happy when God works, but his emphatic statement that conversion had taken place greatly disturbed me. I wonder how many of the men were given a false hope of salvation because of what was said. Dealing carelessly with men’s souls is dangerous.
After the invitation there were hundreds of men standing in the aisles. As I was sitting next to the center aisle I could see the many men who had come forward and received gospel tracts. I had mixed emotions about the situation. On the one hand, I had the desire to lead these men to Christ. But on the other hand, I did not want to be part of what had taken place. However, I eventually made my way to the prayer room. About twenty-five men were waiting in line outside of the prayer room. I stood and watched as men left the line because of the long wait. While I did not want to enter the prayer room and minister alongside the mixed multitude, I did offer to speak with several of the men waiting in the line. The Lord gave me the opportunity to counsel two men about difficult circumstances they were going through at the time. We read certain appropriate Bible passages and then prayed for the Lord’s help.
While speaking with one of these men, there was a startling outburst near us. A man with a very loud voice shouted out the phrase, “the blood of Jesus,” numerous times and then broke out in gibberish. He did this while another man was trying to talk. While the outburst was arresting, it was not surprising that it would take place after the charismatic tone of the whole service.
After the Friday evening service I went home and discussed the program with my wife. She brought up Romans 12:2. “And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” It was apparent to me that Promise Keepers promotes conformity to the world through its music and its methods. The rock music used as praise differs only in its lyrics from the sensual music used by the world. The entire program is designed to make it easy to become a Christian. While the problems of sinful thoughts and lust were mentioned in the messages, the problem of worldliness was not. The music allows those who attend to think they can have the world and Christ at the same time. This is something the Word of God never teaches.
Saturday morning, the Maranatha Promise Band performed several numbers which would have been quite appropriate in the local bar and grill. Accompanied by loud and worldly music, the song leaders repeated a phrase about fifteen times in a row. The leader of the band led the crowd in a sing-song prayer which reminded me of a Gregorian chant. I thought this might have been done to appeal to the many Roman Catholics in the audience.
The more they repeated phrases of the songs the more the crowd responded. Those around me swayed back and forth to the music and raised their bands into the air. From my vantage point in the upper balcony, it was quite a spectacle to watch thousands of men clapping and moving together. During one song, a string of men formed a line dance and made their way to the front of the auditorium. There was also a group of people at the front of the stage dancing to the music.
One of the speakers showed a video about an event called, “Passage.” It was designed to appeal to worldly young people. The video included heavy metal music, rap, and other forms of contemporary Christian music. One of the performers on the video was Michael W. Smith who has established himself as a crossover artist. He has watered down the lyrics of his music to become popular with the world. He was a good example of what happens to Christians who conform themselves to the world in an attempt to make the gospel palatable to the lost.
After a fairly good message by a Dr. Fong of Michigan Theological Seminary, a Promise Keepers Board member, a video presentation suddenly appeared on the screen which asked the question: “What would it be like if Jesus met Peter today?” With heavy metal music blaring, the video portrayed the life of Peter as a typical motorcycle gang biker. During the video, Peter, and his black step-brother, Drew, met Jesus. Our Lord was portrayed as a clean biker with a well-trimmed beard who called Peter and Drew to ride with him. In the video, when Peter met Jesus, he made the following statement. “There was something different about this guy [speaking of Jesus], not how he looked . . . but how he looked at us.” They seemed to be stressing that Jesus accepts people as they are. The musical accompaniment would have been appropriate for a heavy metal rock concert. When the video ended, the actor rode down one of the aisles and onto the platform on a motorcycle. Biker Peter got off the motorcycle and asked the audience, “Do you want to ride like that?” The crowd cheered but neither the video nor the actor ever spoke about the outward change which follows the inward. The music and dress of the world was never addressed. It was as if they were saying, “You can have Jesus and be changed on the inside but nobody will know the difference from your appearance.”
I was ready to leave Promise Keepers because of the offense of the heavy metal music. What finally made me leave my seat was the opening illustration used by Coach Bill McCartney, former football coach of the University of Colorado and founder of Promise Keepers. He asked those who were over sixty years old to stand. After recognizing these men, McCartney went on to tell an inappropriate joke about the problems of old age. After all that I had seen and heard, I could stay no longer. I left the arena realizing that Promise Keepers is no organization for any godly, fundamental Christian.
There are many people who attend Promise Keeper rallies each year. The leaders of Promise Keepers are hoping to lead one million men to Christ in the next year. While this is a noble goal, there are several reasons why a fundamental Christian cannot participate.
Promise Keepers deliberately disobeys the separation God commands. The policy of Promise Keepers is to unite the belief and unbelief which God commands us not to unite. The group speaks to Roman Catholics, Mormons, charismatics, and unsaved of various stripes and says, “Join with us for the common goal of uniting men.” God’s Word says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness: and what communion hath light with darkness.” (II Corinthians 6:14) The disobedience is deliberate and obvious.
Promise Keepers attempts to reach men for God through the medium of the world. Everything about the meetings reeked of the world. Rock music pervaded every session. The cheering was not strange to Gund Arena but it was strange to worshiping God. The portrayal of “Biker Jesus” did everything to portray a holy Savior as being a part of the heathen world. It even used the world’s crude humor to appeal to the unsaved and unspiritual man. As I previously quoted, God’s Word says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed. . . .” That note is not a part of Promise Keepers. Nor is, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) A Christian cannot use the appeal of Satan’s lost world to call men out of the lost world. Worldly men left excited about their experience and confirmed in their worldliness.
Promise Keepers uses a watered-down Gospel which is designed not to offend. Sometimes the message sounds like the Gospel but it is carefully tailored not to offend, works salvation, baptismal regeneration, tongues speaking, or extra-biblical revelation, or cults. Even the counseling of seekers is vague and blurred to make men feel accepted without true repentance from sin. Men leave with a false assurance of salvation.
Promise Keepers may have good intentions but its commitment to unscriptural unity, worldly methods, and a cloudy Gospel make it an organization which no fundamental Christian can support.