Promise Keepers in the Light of Sanctification
Presented to the Pastors of the South Wisconsin District
Of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Prepared and presented by: The Rev. Joel R. Baseley October 6-8, 1997 Chula Vista Resort; The Dells, Wisconsin
During the last few years the Promise Keepers (PK) has been a powerful and visible force in contemporary Christendom. I would like to commend the program committee of the South Wisconsin District for being on the cutting edge of theological discussion and for gathering two distinct and perhaps opposing points of view so that the reasons for these views can be shared and examined.
It is important to hear both sides in this discussion, but also to understand that consciences are involved. There are some whose consciences feel free to participate in this movement as an important and integral part of their witness to Christ Jesus. And yet others, upon theological grounds do not have a free conscience regarding this movement.
So as not to fly under false colors, I want to be recognized as one whose conscience does not feel free to be a part of this movement or to recommend it to those under my spiritual supervision. I have written articles in which I have shared some of my reasons for this with my circuit brothers and with subscribers to Logia. Today I am thankful for the opportunity to share my views with you, to be corrected where I err, and to address this situation in the light of God's Word.
We are helped by PK to notice in the church a lack of leadership and faithfulness on the part of Christian men. Many children grow up without a man in the household at all. Often fathers themselves have not grown up to take responsibility for spiritual or temporal authority in their families. Women are often unsupported as they bring their children to church and see to the running of their households. And if men have taken flight from the responsibility to be the heads of their families to their workplace, to live their lives for the satisfaction of earning money, they must now also reckon with the responsibility for their wives also fleeing to the workplace where responsibilities are less enduring and more intense, and the rewards more immediately appealing.
PK has set out to make godly champs in the place of ungodly chumps. And that is a good goal. Certainly the Lord Jesus Christ came to create holy people by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The making of godly people is called sanctification. We might consider sanctification a process, since it is never completed in this life. Yet sanctification is also a present complete holiness that lives before God forever because it yields godly fruit in this life. This sanctification belongs to our life as a Christian, and, as not yet complete, it is also something we hunger for. Christ says, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness." This hunger and thirst has a promised relief. And it is this relief, the satisfaction of the hunger and thirst for righteousness, that PK promises to give. They wear shirts that bespeak them righteous: "Man of Integrity." We should all long to be such men.
There are various methods proposed to achieve this righteousness and sanctification. It does not take long when one points his internet browser to access the official Web site for PK (http://www.promisekeepers.org/) and at the extensive Testimonies of the Week on that site to determine the PK view of sanctification. The operative word is "revival". This paper will present the Biblical doctrine of sanctification and then report historically how sanctification movements and their methods or revivals create doctrines that support these methods while contradicting the grace presented by God's Word. These theological problems preclude orthodox Christians from embracing such movements because of Biblical injunctions to avoid false doctrine.
We have all learned a passage which single-handedly keeps us from many errors in regard to our justification before God and our sanctification:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2.8-10
Our salvation and the faith which receives it, are both attributed to the grace and gift of God, and that gift does not end in God's justifying us, but His making us new creatures who do good works that the Lord has prepared for us to do. Thus in this passage both justification and sanctification are gifts of God which we passively receive, lest we have a reason to boast of our having merited something.
As Scripture attributes these gifts to the work of God upon us through Christ, it also, in the same way attributes such activity of God to the Sacraments and the proclaimed Word.
Baptism: For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. Titus 3.3-8
Thus Baptism and God's bestowing salvation through it is constantly affirmed by St. Paul. His purpose is that by baptismal grace believers will be careful to maintain good works.
The Proclaimed Gospel: Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. John 17.17-19
Holy Communion: ...not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of Grace? For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, Says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10.25-31.
St. Paul spoke about the life of sanctification unabashedly, but he would never speak of such a life apart from the life of Jesus, the Gospel. In doing so he is faithful to the discourse given us by our Lord in John 15, using the imagery of Jesus the vine and his believers the branches. For instance St. Paul says in Galatians 2:19-21:
For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.
St. Paul also speaks of man's 'role' in sanctification in Philippians 2:12-13
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do his good pleasure.
This oft' quoted passage indeed speaks about the reality of the life that is worked out of God's salvation, however the second portion of the text is often omitted; the reason why this life of sanctification is worked out in fear and trembling. Namely, that it is God that works in us to sanctify us, to both will and to do his good pleasure. Koeberle, in his classic, Quest for Holiness, 1 comments on this passage correctly:
Koeberle, pp. 145f
We are not active in our regeneration as though we had helped to bring it to pass, for both the impulse and the power to believe come from God. So there can be no thought of self praise (Romans 3:27). . . So the Pauline statement in Philippians 2:12 does not call in question but rather substantiates the justification of the godless. But the other thought, "Today if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts," likewise retains its full significance. If we are lost it is our own personal guilt that is responsible. It is not because of God's specific election. Neither is it the fault of the Word, as though its light were not strong enough. . .
Helpless man is still so powerful that he can defy the Almighty - even beyond the gates of death. By his continually hardened self-will he is actually able to accomplish the fearful result of ruining God's tireless efforts to save him and of fulfilling in himself the words of the Apocalypse: "He that is unjust let him be unjust still." (Rev. 2:11)
Here Koeberle rightly points out that in both justification and sanctification God is the active agent, working outside of us through the means of grace to produce faith and salvation when and where He will and also to create man anew so that God in the believer creates a new will and new actions that are righteous and bound to His own will and working. However, this new life of sanctification is worked out of God's salvation experientially in the Christian with fear and trembling because he still possesses in himself the means for thwarting that gift, namely his own sinful will which opposes God. The actions which are done in accord with that will are all pure sin.2
It is for that reason that sanctification always leads man in two directions. In as much as he has crucified his old sinful nature (which is a function of the third use of the Law; the sanctified use of the Law which is the work of Christ and the new creation in us) 3 ,he is selflessly giving sacrificial love to his neighbor and thanks and praise to God. But secondly, in as much as the sinful nature is successful in imposing its will on the thoughts, words and deeds of the believer, sanctification also always leads us back to dependence upon the grace of God given us through Word and Sacraments. Sanctification ultimately and invariably leads us back to the Lord as source, sustainer and worker so that Christ is for us Alpha and Omega; beginning and end. It is worked out with fear and trembling since our stubborn resistance to sanctification, His willing and doing in us, must also be saying 'no' to salvation. God's will to forgive and save us is exactly the same as His will to make us holy. Our persistent 'no' suggests victory for the flesh and eventual loss of faith and salvation; thus fear and trembling (see also Gal. 5 and Romans 7).
The article upon which the church stands or falls is justification. Sanctification is as necessary a correlative to justification for the believer as the resurrection is to the atonement. And yet, sanctification must always remain secondary to justification since it is dependent upon it and leads us back to the doctrine of justification every day of our lives, which are sinful this side of glory.
First Discussion on Presentation
In small groups discuss the following question:
Why is Sanctification an article of faith and not sight? What danger is there in saying that Sanctification is an article of faith and not sight (See Romans 3: 8)?
History is of great value. When the theologies of great church leaders are examined, what they did becomes understandable. The hunger for sanctification is near the heart of every living faith, as said above. The history of John Wesley and Methodism gives us a historical testimony as to what a movement might look like and what might become its confession when sanctification is elevated to the position of queen and determiner of truth and deed. The following data regarding John Wesley and his revival are here freely quoted directly from Religious Bodies in America, by F. E. Meyer and revised by Arthur Carl Piepkorn.4
Wesley's movement was a reaction to what he considered the dead formalism and paganizing tendencies in the Church of England of his day. In his own way, he was a great reformer concerned with the liberalism and lack of vibrancy in his church. Next to Luther and Calvin no other Protestant leader has exerted such a wide, deep, and lasting influence on so many people as John Wesley. The basic difference between Luther, Calvin and Wesley may be stated as follows: In Lutheranism the Christian is viewed as the justified sinner; in Calvinism as the obedient servant; in Methodism in terms of the ideal of the perfect man. Thus from Lutheranism through Calvinism to Methodism man moves from being acted upon, to being active to being perfect. Justification gives way to sanctification as central.
In 1729 John Wesley and a number of other Oxford students, notably his brother, Charles and George Whitefield, began to meet regularly for the systematic exercise in all such Christian virtues as might lead them to attain that perfection and holiness which they considered indispensable to salvation. They engaged not only in methodical Bible study but also in acts of charity. But try as he would, Wesley failed to obtain peace through his activities in the so-called 'Holy Club.' This movement, like PK, had as its goal sanctification through fraternal association, that is, through works.
Wesley believed he received the desired assurance in the Aldersgate Street experience on May 24, 1738 as he heard read the Introduction to the Book of Romans by Martin Luther. This seems to have given Wesley the firm and steady conviction that he was no longer subject to voluntary sins and therefore able to free himself from the wrath of God by a life of holiness in the service of Christ and of the world. The heart of Wesley's experience - and of his theology - was the subjective conviction that he now possessed a constant and intensive love of Christ (note the shift to total sanctification and an experience, date and time, when such was achieved). The flesh was no longer a threat based upon a subjective, internal witness; no more fear and trembling, but blessed assurance. Thus the grace of sanctification was discrete from and subsequent to the grace of salvation; a persistent mark of charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity.
Wesley immediately endeavored to persuade others to share his own religious experience. But although he was an ordained clergyman in the Anglican Church, the average Church was closed to him, partly because the clergy questioned his methods and partly because they distrusted his theology. Wesley and his coworkers therefore had to resort to other means to reach the great masses, such as preaching in the open fields or barns, protracted watch meetings, and especially the class system. (Note the inability or unwillingness to discuss errors or doctrine with the church as was the substance of Luther's Reformation). In the fall of 1739 a group of some ten men, who seemingly had shared Wesley's religious experience, was organized by Wesley as the United Society, "a company of men having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the work of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that THEY MAY HELP EACH OTHER work out their salvation." As the Wesleyan movement spread, Wesley felt that the newly gained converts could not be entrusted to the spiritual care of their regular pastor. Therefore, he established the class system, patterned after the Moravian "Choirs." Ten or twelve members were placed under the supervision of a class leader, whose duty it was to investigate once a week each member's spiritual growth and to advise as the occasion demanded as well as to receive the weekly freewill offering for the support of the work. The separate societies or classes constituted a circuit and were under the supervision of a lay preacher (Note PK structure is identical). 5
The books that came to be accepted in Methodism as authoritative in addition to the Bible are The Twenty-Five Articles of Religion (based on the Thirty Nine Articles in the Book of Common Prayer); Wesley's Sermons and Notes on the New Testament; and The Book of Discipline. These rules of discipline play such a prominent part in Methodist church life that his church body may be called a church with a discipline rather than a doctrinal platform. . . But John Wesley was evidently interested more in deeds than in creeds. It must be remembered that his movement was a reformation of life, not doctrine.
In The Character of a Methodist, Wesley writes: "I will not quarrel with you about any mere opinion [disputed doctrines?]. Only see that your heart be right toward God; that you know and love the Lord Jesus Christ; that you love your neighbor and walk as your Master walked and I desire no more. I am sick of opinions; I am weary to hear them. My soul loathes this frothy food. Give me solid and substantial religion; give me a humble and gentle lover of God and man; a man full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy; a man laying himself out in the work of faith, the patience of hope, the labor of love. Let my soul be with these Christians, whosoever they are and whatsoever opinion they are." (Note similarity to Bill McCartney rhetoric) 6
Although it is claimed that this movement (like PK) was a-theological in its nature, but rather concerned only with the sanctification of man apart from their doctrinal opinions, Methodism could not break away from the church and operate in a new way without finding theological emphases that would be in keeping with their practices. Meyer reports that the heart of Wesley's theology could best be presented under four points: universal, free, full and sure salvation. Though these are perfectly orthodox words the meanings that came to be given them were not.
Universal Salvation: Going beyond Armenianism, Wesley embraced Origen's theory of "Universal Opportunity." In Wesley, the important point is that God never requires more than that man live according to the measure of light given him. Like Origen he believed that God's kingdom is really threefold, represented best by three concentric circles. The Father's kingdom is the most extensive and embraces all men. In this realm men are guided in their actions only by the light of reason and therefore will be judged solely by the use they made of their opportunities. In the Son's kingdom the standard of judgment is the Gospel. The Spirit's realm is restricted exclusively to those who have had an "experiential knowledge of Christ." In Wesley's opinion, "universal salvation" is tantamount to "universal opportunity."
Free Salvation: According to Wesley, man still bears the image of his Maker, and God still deigns to dwell in man. Wesley therefore placed great emphasis on the sovereignty and dignity of man (as opposed to Calvin's vesting this in God). It was only natural that Wesley ascribed this "sovereign man" freedom of choice. In Wesley's use of the term "Free Salvation" the accent lies on the word "free," to wit, man is a free agent and able to accept or to reject salvation. Wesley held that man did not entirely lose the divine image (synteresis in Roman Catholic Theology).
Full Salvation: The doctrine of the perfected man "according to the stature of Christ" is in Wesley's opinion the heart and core of the Gospel message. He compared repentance to the porch and faith to the door of a house, but found the house itself to be Christian perfection.
Sure Salvation: In the final analysis Wesley rested his faith on his faith, a highly subjective procedure. Faith thus becomes an experience rather than belief in the substance of Christ and his promises (the Gospel) and thus is disconnected with true faith. The sanctification that follows is self-directed and leads not to repentance but from it.
Meyer points out the following characteristics of Methodism: latitudinarianism, legalism, emotionalism and "enthusiasm", that is, basing faith on God's work inside of us instead of His work outside of us through objective means. Of special note are Meyer's comments about the appearance of legalism in the Methodist church:
"Discipline" is the constitution and body of laws which govern the faith and life of the individual and the ritual and organizational procedure of the local congregation and conferences. There is a basic difference between Calvinistic and Methodistic Legalism. In Calvinism the observance of the Bible's ethical injunctions is viewed as the obligation which man as a finite creature and bond servant owes to the sovereign Lord. It is therefore extremely difficult ever to associate a spirit of joy with Calvinistic legalism. In Methodism, however, the discipline is viewed as the means whereby the Christian -- a free man and more or less master of his own destiny -- seeks and attains Christian perfection. It is difficult to imagine that the Methodist type of legalism leads to a morbid spirit, though, like all forms of legalism, it frequently leads to uncertainty. (The more popular form of legalism is one that feeds the ego by offering righteousness based on works of the law. This is what Jesus referred to as the leaven of the Pharisees and what Paul writes against when he says that Christ is the end of the law for Righteousness for one who believes).
Had Wesley centered his thanksgiving and attention to the Gospel and God's Word rather than his particular experience accompanying the Gospel (which became then a legalistic proscription to be impelled upon all) the departures from Biblical truth reported above would not have occurred and his revival may well have taken a Lutheran course, extolling and centering on God's revealed Word. Rather it took a different form which was manifested by the following:
Disdain for debate of the Word and Doctrine.
Spiritual oversight taken from clergy to a rigid lay system.
Legalism in an attractive form.
Promise of obedience which eventually leaves behind repentance.
Salvation based on the performance of man.
Denial of monergism and affirmation of the ability of man.
Contrast this to the article upon which the church stands or falls: 7
Augsburg Confession IV
We teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who by His death has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God accounts as righteousness in His sight, Rom. 3 and 4.
Revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries contribute more than anything to the impression that America was founded upon Christian roots. Many who had come early to settle in America lived lives that were little interested in religion of any sort in the early 1700's. With the preaching of George Whitefield 8 (Anglican associate of the Wesleys), the First Great Awakening occurred in America (1740's). Crowds were gathered out of doors to hear preachers. Presbyterians of the day saw this "awakening" as a sovereign work of God, a time when according to God's will souls were stirred to know the dread of what their sins earned and to turn to Christ for salvation. Many were converted. It is reported that, for the most part, these gatherings were marked by, at most, quiet weeping and a somber reflection that led, under the preaching of God's Word, to conversion and faith and a commitment to the things of God. Nothing was practiced during this First Great Awakening that was not fitting to have occurred in the churches themselves. With the revivals of the 1740's the thoughts of the continent were awakened to the salvation of God. The First Great Awakening was relatively short in duration. The Presbyterian Church joined hands with the Baptists and Methodists. There was general agreement to stay away from preaching doctrines which were disputed. Emotional outbursts were not encouraged and would even be quieted as a disturbance to the work of God. 9
In the Second Great Awakening which commenced around the turn of the 19th century, the character of the revival changed, especially in the south (Kentucky). Rather than quelling emotional excesses that might occur in the preaching, many started equating these emotional outbreaks, swooning, sighing, wailing, twitching and convulsions, with conversion itself and the experience of God. This trend led to disunity in the churches between those that embraced such displays as the working of the Holy Spirit and in service to the acceptance of the Gospel and therefore promoted, encouraged and enabled such things, and those that believed this to be a sinful hindrance to the work of individual conversion. Along with these emotional displays it was noticed that the calling forth of "converts" to the altar and the occupation of the "worry bench" gathered always a greater number of "converts" coming forward. Under such techniques results became assured and prolonged so that this Great Awakening went on for decades. The new measures always worked.
Most notably sounding the alarm in this Second Awakening were Presbyterian (Calvinist) ministers who, believing in the sovereignty of God in conversion saw these emphases on the actions of human beings being "converted" as counter productive and manipulative. The young Presbyterian ministers especially, found no scruples, but were satisfied with the results that the new measures obtained. Yet in adapting the new measures the Gospel had become a very human and not a divine instrument. An instrument that man could grasp by his abilities and could be packaged to make it even more desirable. Those embracing the new measures who were trained as Presbyterians and even ordained as such were also changed by the New Measures. What changed? Their theology. In this awakening the quieting of polemic against "particular doctrines" was laid aside both by Methodist influence and by Presbyterians who found themselves reputing the divine monergism espoused by their training and embracing the Methodist view of man's abilities and latent goodness that could welcome their own conversion if properly persuaded to do so. A notable example is that of Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875). 10 The notable American Lutheran practitioner of the "new measures" was Samuel Simon Schmucker, author of the American revision of the Augsburg Confession (1855) in which Schmucker repudiated five 'errors' in the Augsburg Confession including baptismal regeneration, individual confession and absolution and the real presence of the Lord in the Sacrament. The new methods had evidently also changed him.
Wesley developed Methodist Revivalism in England with the intention to recreate his experience that resulted in a perfect Sanctification. Though he did not set out to intentionally change Biblical teaching, his teaching ended up taking a definite, and, we might say, antagonistic stand against the principal teachings of grace; the total depravity and incapability of man and the total dependence of man upon God for salvation and holiness.
In America, also, revivalistic methods changed a generation of Presbyterians from Calvinistic Monergism and the total inability of man to a vociferous and antagonistic stand against these Biblical teachings. The Method was not neutral. It gained numerical success but eventually created new (man-made) theology consistent with Wesley, the founder of the method.
What is Promise Keepers? In July, 1993 in Boulder Colorado, more that 50,000 men representing every state and every continent met together for Promise Keepers, '93. For an entire weekend, they worshipped God in prayer, praise, and song and received teaching on subjects ranging from marriage and child rearing to sexual temptation and accountability. And in the closing challenge, most of those men chose to light their candles as an outward expression of an inner transaction, their commitment to keep the seven promises outlined in this book (from Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, p. 3). 12 The mission statement of PK is simply, "Promise Keepers is a Christ-centered ministry dedicated to uniting men through vital relationships to become Godly influences in their world." This statement is certainly action oriented and is a sanctification goal. Unity. Godly influence.
Since the mission statement desires to be Christ - centered, p. 10 of Promises wishes to make sure that members of their group are in connection with Christ. In order to assure this, please note the quote from Promises below on the left hand side.
Comparing 'Coming to Faith' -- Promise Keepers vs. the Augsburg Confession
Augsburg Confession V
Are you sure you're a Christian?
You need to do five things to become a part of God's family. If you haven't done these, I urge you, if you're sincerely ready, to do them now:
1. ADMIT your spiritual need. "I am a sinner."
2. REPENT. Be willing to turn from your sin, and with God's help, start living to please him.
3. BELIEVE that Jesus Christ died for you on the cross and rose again.
4. RECEIVE, through prayer, Jesus Christ into your heart and life. Pray something like this from the sincerity of your heart: Dear Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins and then rose from the grave. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life. I receive you as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you for saving me. Amen.
5. Then TELL a believing friend and a pastor about your commitment.
That we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel. That is, God, not because of our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into favor for Christ's sake.
We condemn the anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Spirit comes without the external Word but through their own preparations and works.
1. Review the PK and CA V versions of conversion. Who acts in order that a person be included in God's household according to PK? According to CA V? What is the CA V evaluation of teaching that man becomes a part of God's household (or receives the Holy Spirit) by his own works and preparations? Why does the CA take this stance (see 5th reference in endnote 7)?
2. What is the role of the minister in the PK Statement? In CA V?
The Promises of a Promise Keeper and their Purpose
Below please find excerpts from p. 8f from Promises
How do we wake up to the opportunity of God, set our sails to His favor, and ride in His boat, using the tide He has created?
How do we do that? Promise Keepers believes it starts by making some promises - promises we intend to keep. That's why we've written Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper. These promises emerged out of an intense time of prayer and discussion among our staff and board of directors. Here they are:
1. A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to God's Word in 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 (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19-20)
As you can see, A Promise Keeper seizes the moment for Jesus by making commitments. Yes, commitments! There is no changing the future without committing to that change. There's no commitment to change when men have a comfortable Christianity that makes no demands on their lives. If we're honest, we must admit that promises have been broken. Relationships have been damaged. And we are out of step with God. It's time for us to rise up and say, "Those days are over!" These promises are not designed as a new list of ten commandments to remind us of how badly we're doing with respect to the often competing demands of the marketplace, the home, and the mission field. Rather, they are meant to guide us toward the life of Christ and to transform us within so that we might see transformation in our homes. . . and ultimately in our nation.
The Relationship of Commitment to Sanctification
Commitment and the solicitation of a commitment is the language and method that dominates Revivalism with Methodist presuppositions. No one can dispute what PK says about the importance of commitments. To restate it (Italics are quoting the box citation above), "There is no changing the future without committing to that change. There's no change when men have a comfortable Christianity that makes no demands on their lives." Who could dispute that? It is absolutely true. The Christian hope is a future hope. To be satisfied with the present way of life and sinfulness is to throw aside the promised hope of a perfect future. Not to heed the Lord's demands to take up our cross and lose our lives is truly to identify in the church a deadly disease; its spiritually being neither hot nor cold that the Lord Himself finds unpalatable. But where does such commitment come from and what would the Lord have us do about our lack of commitment?
Commitment and sincerity are the porch by which one is converted to God's household in Promises. This accords with the (Methodistic) teaching that man retains the ability to be committed and sincere towards God, as opposed to spiritually dead (Eph. 2).
Since conversion and sanctification must be closely akin, so also the sanctification espoused by PK depends on commitment. Note again what it says, once the problem of the lack of commitment is identified. "There's no commitment to change when men have a comfortable Christianity that makes no demand on their lives (We've already agreed to this point). If we're honest, we must admit that promises have been broken. Relationships have been damaged. We must still agree with PK, but now what follows?
It's time for us to rise up and say, "Those days are over!" And here we really must break with the pattern of sanctification espoused by PK. At that point it is not up to us to do anything but become silent in guilt before God for our sins (Romans 3:19). At this point we must bow down and despair in the words of the Publican (Luke 18:13), "Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner." And here is the crux of the problem. PK believes and teaches that through the use of our commitment, our natural, good ability to COMMIT, we can begin to be transformed and made better, which is exactly what they go on here to say... These promises are not designed as a new list of ten commandments to remind us of how badly we are doing . . . Rather, they are meant to guide us toward the life of Christ and to transform us within so that we might see transformation.
Through human commitment to these promises and men's following through on their commitment, they are promised to be guided toward the life of Christ and to be transformed within. This core promise of the movement is not of God, but a lie.
We have already examined a passage of Scripture that would lead us in the opposite direction. Philippians 2:12 says that we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling because it is God working in us to will and to do that which is pleasing in his sight. This says that it is no natural or innate power of commitment in us that pleases God and works the will of God. It is God Himself who works this commitment in us. And how does he do that? Not by our saying, "Now it is time to change all that." Just where grace must be applied, the law and commitment are brought in. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness the answer is not found in our promises, nor in our commitments that had failed in the first place, nor in the high sounding rules and joyous legalism of PK living, but in the alien righteousness of Christ. Godly commitment is a gift given with forgiveness and never apart from it. It is not given in the Law and promises we make. PK has a different view of both the Law and the Gospel than we have.
PK does not apply God's Law properly. St. Paul says that the Law is to show us our sins (Romans 7:13) and that Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for those who believe (Romans 10:4). Yet Christ, repentance and forgiveness are here left back on the porch (Note Paul's words: But I will not put aside the grace of God, Gal. 2.21). Men might be joyfully captured by this pleasant legalism that extols their abilities to make commitments and to find a method to follow, making them able to do so much as to be men of integrity (instead of fearing and trembling acknowledging God's presence and their sin, Phil. 2:12). But why shouldn't a man look at his sin in his relationships with his wife, children, and society and have fear and trembling because by nature he opposes his sanctification and God's perfect will for his life? Why should a man be let off the hook as he is in PK and be told, "We're not trying to use our Law to make you feel guilty," when he IS guilty and should seek grace? That is the role of the Law in godly repentance and it is stiff correction not to be avoided. St. Paul says we are to crucify our flesh, not to make excuses for it. Thus PK abuses God's Law in two ways. (1) It does not use the Law to crucify the flesh and alarm its followers to fear and trembling for their continual and life long opposition to God, which can ultimately be lethal to faith and salvation. And (2) it claims that through commitment to follow PK laws, the PK initiate will be led to the life of Christ and to inner transformation, thus making a Gospel out of their laws and leaving out the Means of Grace.
The pattern of teaching in PK is not the sound Biblical pattern of the Lutheran Confessions and the Apostles. It exhibits consistently a sanctification based on Methodist form and substance. It is designed entirely to turn man to make a commitment by his choice as opposed to the Divine Service which turns helpless man to his helpful Redeemer. It is self-centered (as are all experiences) as opposed to other centered. It leads not to a life of repentance but promises the transformed life of a Promise Keeper, leaving grace and repentance (doctrine) out on the porch.
A sanctification centered religion will look different than a justification centered service. But the question is, can we somehow use this movement in service to the sanctification of our men? This could be looked at pragmatically. What do they have to offer? What do we have to offer? At our altars the people are given the Body and Blood of Christ, they are given Holy Baptism and, I hope, constant reminders of their Baptism, and they are given the Lord - mandated absolution of their sins. Christ is placed in them. What is added by their being exhorted to commitment, when that commitment is already given them with the new life Christ creates in them? Perhaps the experience of a stadium full of men can add something to their being given Christ himself? Compared to Christ and his gifts, to me, a stadium full of men could only be a disappointment.
But sanctification is still an issue even as we talk about PK; our own sanctification as pastors. The Lord and his Apostles say that when we encounter the leaven of the Pharisees, that is, confidence in our own ability (commitment) and righteousness instead of Christ's imputed righteousness, we are to avoid it. St. Paul says to mark and avoid those that cause division apart from the doctrine we have received. That is the command of Christ and the Apostles. Some have suggested that we can look at this movement as we would a fish we are eating, and pick out the bones. They say to use it, but tentatively and with caution. Christ and the Apostles say mark and avoid. And we are divided between two opinions.
No where in Scriptures does it say to put the best construction on false doctrine. And our seminaries and other Synodical officials should be taking the lead in helping us to identify this false doctrine and reject it out of hand instead of trying to find a way to baptize it and make it a Lutheran. We have among our fellowship two distinctly different answers to the question, "What shall we do?" We can choose to (1) use it tentatively, or (2) mark and avoid it. The question is, which answer and response comes from Christ and his desires and which comes from our own head and desires? The second option, to mark and avoid, flows from our faith and Christ's revelation (John 15; Romans 16:17) and is thus befitting sanctification. The first comes from our own natural fleshly opinion and dream and thus opposes our own sanctification. How can we claim to be leading men to sanctification by acting in opposition of our own? How can we lead men away from sacramental grace to the lying, yet attractive promises that are given through the PK organization with its rules and joyous legalism apart from the Spirit wrought means of grace which give the righteousness of Christ and repentance? We must not. By God's grace we may repent of our own ideas and take every thought captive to the mind of Christ. To do otherwise is to say "no" to God and place salvation itself in jeopardy since justification and sanctification come from the one will of God. We SHOULD work out our salvation with fear and trembling (in constant repentance directed by the revealed faith) since it is God Himself that works and we by fallen nature work against Him.
May the Lord, and the Lord only, through His revealed Word, lead us into all truth and the unity that comes through faith. Amen.
To God Alone be Glory
Endnote 1 Koeberle, Adolf. The Quest for Holiness. Ballast Press. Evansville, IN. 1995; originally copyrighted 1936 by Harper & Bros. Back to text.
From this it follows that as soon as the Holy Spirit has initiated his work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that we can and must cooperate by the power of the Holy Spirit, even though we do this with great weakness. Such cooperation does not proceed from our carnal and natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts which the Holy Spirit has begun in us in conversion, as St. Paul expressly and earnestly reminds us, "Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain." (II Cor. 6.1) This is to be understood in no other way than that the converted man does good, as much and as long as God rules him through his Holy Spirit, guides and leads him, but if God should withdraw his gracious hand man could not remain in obedience to God for one moment. But if this were to be understood as though the converted man cooperates alongside the Holy Spirit, the way two horses draw a wagon together, such a view could by no means be conceded without detriment to the truth.
There is therefore a great difference between baptized people and unbaptized people because according to the teaching of St. Paul, "all who have been baptized have put on Christ" (Gal. 3.27), are thus truly born again, and now have a liberated will-that is, as Christ says, they have again been made free. As a result, they not only hear the Word of God but also are able to assent to it and accept it, even though it be in great weakness. But since in this life we have received only the first fruits of the Spirit, and regeneration is not as yet perfect but has only been begun in us, the conflict and warfare of the flesh against the Spirit continues also in the elect and truly reborn. Again, there is not only a great difference between Christians, one being weak and the other strong in the Spirit, but even the individual Christian in his own life discovers that at one moment he is joyful in the Spirit and at another moment fearful and terrified, at one time ardent in love, strong in faith and in hope and at another time cold and weak.Back to text.
What Lutheranism has always said concerning the tertius usus legis is especially true of the sanctification that shall take the place of the Torah in the life of the believer. As the Law by its bridling and judging prepares the heathen for conversion to God, so sanctification in the life of the baptized Christian drives him ceaselessly to a return to God. Neither the Law nor sanctification in themselves possess a saving or preserving power, "But the Holy Ghost, who is given and received, not through the Law, but through the preaching of the Gospel (Gal. 3:14), renews the heart." (Form. Conc. 642:11) But afterwards the Spirit uses the office of the Law and its disciplinary application against the "lazy, careless, antagonistic" flesh, so that faith may not become "lazy, dull and weary." Where the exertions of sanctification do not daily impel, threaten and coerce the natural desires, there sin, which persistently strives to regain its lost territory in the life of the regenerate, soon regains the mastery, and man loses his faith because he has not used the powers given with his faith to repulse evil or to protect and strengthen the precious treasures he has received. What was given as an undeserved gift is deservedly lost. Back to text
Endnote 4 F.E. Meyer, revised by Arthur Carl Piepkorn. The Religious Bodies of America. Concordia Publishing House. 1961. Back to text.
Endnote 5 Promise Keepers is also a rigid lay program of training, discipline and structure in which each congregation has an overseer called a point man who is to see that the program is administered and materials used are prescribed through the organization. Small responsibility groups are made that are to watch over one another. Back to text.
Promise Keepers doesn't care! There is no division. Men, there's something else we've got to talk about. We're from different denominations, with different styles, ways that we conduct ourselves ...Promise Keepers doesn't care! Do you love Jesus? Are you born into the Spirit of God?... Can we get together on that? That's it men. We've got to come together. We've got to break down all the nonsense. We've got to cut each other some slack. We've got to quit talking about each other. We're men of God. We love Jesus. Nothing else matters. (The crowd goes crazy with applause, whistling and chanting: JESUS-JESUS-JESUS). That's who we are. Where are we going?" (McCartney answers they will break down all barriers including denominational barriers to take America back for Jesus.) Back to text.
I. p. 184f: The fathers of the Missouri Synod were given the advice from all sides to cast aside the "Symbol theology" and instead to adopt the fashionable "revival method," in case they wished to keep their Church alive. Our fathers refused to be confused by such talk. They fought every form of the man-made movement, publicly and privately, in the home, the school, the church, and the higher institutions of learning, kept on teaching the pure divine truth, as it is revealed in God's infallible Word and confessed the symbols of the Lutheran Church. And God has blessed the "repristination theology" of our fathers with success also in this country, in spite of vehement opposition. But whether there be success or not, God has commanded His Church to preach His Word without subtraction or addition. Farther than that the responsibility of the Church does not go. The success rests in God's hands. In this conviction the entire Synodical Conference is by God's grace united and active as one Church. To this end God, of course, must give and preserve teachers who are not only scholarly but have also been trained in the school of the Holy Ghost, so that they know by their own experience how absolutely necessary it is for the Church steadfastly to cling to the sola gratia and the sola Scriptura. Modern theology has unfortunately given up both these truths.
II. p.401 footnote 9; Augs. Conf., Art. V: "Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, when and where it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel. . . They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works." Incidentally, the clause "When and where it pleases God," which so many find offensive, merely reproduces the phrases "According to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. 1:5), "Of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13), etc., and declares that the creation of faith does not lie in the power of man (not even in that of the revivalists), but solely in God's omnipotence (Trig. 1079, F. C., Sol. Decl., XI, 45)....
II. p. 523 footnote 38; The Lutheran Observer of the General Synod in 1862 reprimanded the Lutherans of St. Louis who had "brought only 5,000 into the Church" for clinging to a "Sacramental religion" - to the external means of grace - instead of using the American revival method and raised the charge that the Lutherans of St. Louis (at least in 1862), by clinging to this old "system" taught that salvation can be obtained "without repentance and faith." Walther replied: "The reason why the Lutherans of the old school hold so firmly to the mains of grace is not that they would save men without repentance and faith, as one is healed by medicine which only needs to be taken and works even while he is sleeping, but because they firmly hold that a poor sinner is justified before God and saved solely by faith, without works, without his merit, by grace, that is, that his salvation is due not to what he does, works, merits, but to God alone, who offers him full salvation in the means of grace. In that sense we are, indeed, 'sacramentalists.' "(Lehre und Wehre, 1862, p. 152 f.)
III. p. 160; The Holy Spirit is not impressed by the often very boisterous meetings of the revival preachers. Shouting and uproar are not His vehicle. Drums and flags, too, leave Him cold. But He immediately responds when Christ, crucified for the sins of the world, and faith in Him as the way of salvation is proclaimed in these meetings. In short, the Holy Ghost insists upon His vehiculum. When this vehicle is pushed aside, the Holy Ghost is absent, and men mistake the product of another spirit and of man's own spirit for the work of the Holy Ghost and for the Holy Spirit Himself. Luther's verdict on the striving of all who assume an immediate activity of the Holy Spirit is Scriptural: "They say, You must have the Spirit; but the way in which I can receive the Spirit they want to block for me. How can I get the Spirit and believe if the Word of God is not preached to me and the Sacraments given me? I must have the means; for faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the oral Word, Rom. 10:17." (St. L. III:1695f).
III. p. 217f They (Calvinists) must rather refer sinners who are terrified by God's Law and are seeking grace to prayers and other human endeavors and by these activities to induce in them such moods and feelings as can perchance (as long as they are not aware of their utter sinfulness) be regarded as marks of sonship with God. Likewise one can understand why synergists, whether they call themselves Reformed or Lutheran or otherwise, like to refer to prayer as a means of grace, or employ it as such, since they teach that the gift of divine grace depends also on what man does, on personal self-determination, on right conduct, etc. It is a well-known fact that the run of the revival preachers among the sects point the soul seeking grace to prayer for grace instead of to the Word and Sacraments. Lutheran Pietists, even a man like Fresenius, have done the same thing. Underneath this practice there always lies the conscious or unconscious denial of the complete reconciliation of the whole world by Christ's satisfactio vicaria and the denial of the truth that Word and Sacraments are the divinely ordained means through which God both proffers the remission of sins won by Christ and calls forth and strengthens faith.
III. p. 218 footnote 115; Against (exhorting prayer as a component in conversion) Walther sets the thesis: "The Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace." Walther shows by three examples from Apostolic practice that terrified sinners were pointed to the Word of the Gospel and BAPTISM (Acts 2:16, 22); then, that three errors lie at the base of the opposite practice of the Reformed sects and of Lutherans given to Reformed practices: 1. They do not believe and teach a real, complete reconciliation of man with God through Christ's vicarious satisfaction. 2. They teach falsely on the Gospel. They do not regard the Gospel as a proclamation of the remission of sins, but as a primer for human endeavors toward meriting God's grace. Individual preachers among the sects are sometimes an exception due to some Lutheran influence. 3. The sects teach falsely on faith. They regard the faith through which men are justified and saved as a quality in man. "The doctrine of infused grace is the whole mystery of the Papacy and the sects." However, Walther does not fail to point out that also Lutherans who confess the correct doctrine are only too often papistic and sectarian in practice because every man by nature "is minded to base his redemption not on something outside him, but entirely on himself" (Die luth. Lehre v. d. Rechtertigung, p. 64). Of the nature of modern theology Walther says (ibid., p. 69): "All modern Christendom refuses to trust God on the basis of his mere Word - will believe God only if grace is felt in the heart and imagines that one can become certain of grace by his own efforts (basing faith on the regenerate ego, the Christian consciousness). That indeed amounts to nothing else than a shipwreck of faith. . . . They are minded to seek Christ only in themselves and not to be content until they have supposedly found Him there. Their custom is to ask: 'Have you Christ in your heart? Do you feel that He is working in you," If the answer given is Yes, then and not till then, is there cause for comfort and hope; then are they ready to believe. But what is thus imagined to be faith is not true faith but pure illusion or, at best, a fruit of faith. Woe to him who relies on it! To do that means to make a false Christ for yourself and to reject the Christ who hung on the Cross and gives Himself to us in the Gospel.
III. p. 272; The denial of Baptism as a means of grace is abetted by the baptized who do not lead a Christian life. This ungodliness, men say, warrants the conclusion that Baptism is not medium of the remission of sins and regeneration. Very persistently, as we have often noted, the argument is repeated: Many who hear the Gospel do not believe and are not saved, and many who are baptized live wickedly and are lost. Therefore the external Word of the Gospel and Baptism with water cannot be means of Grace; on the contrary, "efficacious grace acts immediately," "nothing intervenes between the volition of the Spirit and the regeneration of the soul." That is, of course, a foolish argument. People who reason thus ought, above all, themselves refrain from preaching and writing, for if the Holy Spirit does not come through God's Word and through the divine ordinance of Baptism far less will He come through the word of Muenzer, Zwingli, Calvin, "Gypsy" Smith, etc., or through the human ordinances of class meetings and revival camp meetings. But to think and act consistently is not man's strong point since the Fall. Such inconsistency is due to his conceit and the influence of the archenemy of the Church, who would bring God's ordinance, the means of grace, into disrepute and induce man to base the remission of sins and salvation on man-made products falsely labeled "spirit," instead of on the grace of God in Christ. For this reason the opposition to Baptism as a means of grace makes such a profound impression on the public in and outside the Church; therefore we must, in home and Church, continually teach the saving character of Baptism, and stress it particularly, both thetically and antithetically, in our theological instruction. Back to text.
Endnote 8 Whitefield, a Calvinist eventually broke association with the Wesleys because of their Armenianism. Back to text.
Endnote 9 Iaian Murray. Revival and Revivalism, the Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858. The Banner of Truth Trust. Carlisle, Pa. 1994. Back to text.
Endnote 10 For his own systematic treatment of revivalism in the 1800's, consult Charles Grandison Finney's Lectures on Systematic Theology. 1854. Back to text.
Endnote 11 Wolf, R.C. Documents of Lutheran Unity in America. CPH, Heritage Series, Reprinted from Fortress Press. 1966. Back to text.
Endnote 12 Al Jensen, Larry K. Weeden, ed. Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper. Focus on the Family Publishing. Colorado Springs, Colorado. 1994. Back to text.
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