CONCENTRIC CIRCLES OF CONCERN: Seven Stages for Making Disciples

The expression may be strange to your ears, but the doctrine is a familiar one. The world seeks to lower our standards–something which the Lord warned about (Rom. 12:2). The book, Concentric Circles of Concern, advocates including rather than excluding others from our circle of faithful brethren. This would be of little import were it not for the great strides the doctrine has made in the denominational world. Its influence continually swallows up more and more Christians in a persistent advance upon all who bow to its towering demands.Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages for Making Disciples authored by W. O. Thompson in 1981 has been revised by Claude B. King and Carolyn Thompson Ritzmann. The new release date was on 9/1/1999 through Broadman & Holman Press. The book is advertised as *the* authority for evangelism among “Christian” schools and churches today. It is my understanding that some congregations of the Lord’s body have also been using this for special classes in various places. One online review says of its philosophy: “Universal love is certainly the ideal, but this love is achieved by cultivating broader and broader concentric circles of concern. …”

Another online review includes the following:

In this stylish re-issue of W. Oscar Thompson’s classic book on evangelism, Thompson shows Christians *how to spread the love and good news of Christ by building and repairing personal relationships.* Too often the only kind of evangelism encouraged is the preaching to strangers, anonymous crowds, and foreign countries. This book hits readers where they live, teaching them that the most effective way to witness is through a simple plan of *meeting the needs of close family first,* then friends, and then all others.

How does this philosophy affect members of the church who zealously reach out for more and better ways to convert the lost? What is to be the guideline in dealing with family, friends, members of the church and finally the world? Notice that the book mentioned above is widely used in denominational groups—so much so that whole lesson plans and tests may be found online for anyone wanting to study it. What would be wrong with a sincere Christian studying and following this very enticing book?

First of all, it is built on the humanistic philosophy “I’m OK; You’re OK.” It is telling its students that we are not to question the beliefs of anyone, but to accept them as they are and build bridges rather than burn them—convert the world to “universal love and kindness” rather than to truth. It says relationships with people are what matter and that truth does not. While something may be said for learning to get along with others, we know from our study of the Scriptures that God’s people have never been compromisers. The Apostle Paul was one who taught us well in this regard. First of all we read:

“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:19-22).

While at the same time we also read Paul saying:

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:8-10).

How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements? The first scripture fits the change agent’s agenda, but not the second. The subject in 1 Corinthians is about personal customs, actions and behavior involving food from grocery stores and idols temples. Paul ate whatever was set before him with a free conscience, but adjusted his food intake to keep from offending someone who thought it was wrong. In this content, Paul’s major concern was to keep from putting a stumbling block in front of unbelievers so he could reach them the gospel. Paul was totally adaptable when it came to personal habits and patterns.

The second scripture militates against every change agent! Paul’s statement to the Galatians was in a totally different setting and context. He first placed a curse on all false teachers who brought a different gospel. In that setting, he absolutely refused to budge an inch in teaching the truth. There was neither adding to nor deleting anything concerning God’s truth. The Pharisees recognized the same quality in Christ. They knew full well that he taught the way of God in truth, and neither cared for any man nor regarded the person of men (Matt. 22:16). Jesus did not speak his own word (John 14:10), Paul did not speak his own word (1 Cor. 2:13) and the Holy Spirit did not speak his own words (John 16:13). The gospel cannot be changed for any reason. The truth of God is firm, secure and established forever (Jude 1:3).

Jesus knew that when we stand for truth we naturally limit the number of people within our circle. He proved his point in John 6 and lost many of his followers rather than change a word of God’s truth (John 6:66). We must follow the steps of the Master, even if it means losing family members, friends or associates at our work. If we follow the master and stand on anything for the sake of truth, we will automatically exclude people who may have otherwise been friends. Our circles become smaller and smaller as opposed to the change agents whose circles become wider and broader. We may even exclude immediate family members. May the Lord give us strength to stand alone when it is necessary.

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