When Paul, still called Saul, returned to Jerusalem alter his conversion and after the Damascan Jew's had plotted to kill him for telling the good news about Jesus in public, he "was trying to associate with the disciples" (Acts 11:26, NASB).
Of course, the Jerusalem disciples didn't want Saul associating with them. They didn't care much about the way he "associated" with Christians. When they had seen him last, he had been "breathing out threatenings and slaughter" toward them and had been carrying warrants to Damascus to arrest some more of them. Stephen's body was barely cold in its grave attributable in large part to the encouragement of the young Saul.
They thought that to accept Saul as one of them would be a little like letting the fox "associate" with the chickens!
Enter Barnabas, a Jew (Levite) from the island of Cyprus, a landowner in Jerusalem, who introduced Saul to the apostles. Immediately after that introduction, Saul was with the disciples as they went in and out at Jerusalem. As related in Acts 9, he became a loved and trusted brother among them.
How do you suppose that happened? How did Barnabas get to know that Saul - their former nemesis - could now be trusted?
While Luke gives us a little detail about this in his history' of the early disciples, he is silent about exactly how Barnabas came to know about Saul's drastic change of life. But, he does drop a few clues. In Damascus, where Saul was immersed by Ananias to have his sins washed away, some interesting things happened.
Obviously, the first person to know about Saul's conversion was Ananias a disciple held in high respect by the Jews in his city. Was he the professional, Located Preacher in the church at Damascus? (I just recently talked with another Christian who insisted that if a Gospel Preacher did not immerse someone, then the one immersed was not properly immersed and, therefore, was not a child of God! May the Lord have mercy on us! Are we doomed to continue repeating the sins of our fathers? It was this same erroneous idea that led to the development of the "priesthood" of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.)
Luke says simply that "There was a follower of Jesus in Damascus. His name was Ananias." Apparently, there was nothing really special about him. He was not a professional evangelist. He was not a professional located preacher. He was just a follower of Jesus like you or me. Except that the Lord spoke to him directly in a vision, telling him about Saul.
After Saul's immersion, he stayed with the disciples in the city for a few days. While there, he began to tell the Jews who came into the synagogue about Jesus. They were amazed and dumbfounded! They couldn't deal with the power of Saul's persuasive speech about Jesus being the Messiah.
So they did what people sometime do when backed into a corner, having their whole religious system challenged - they plotted to kill him.
The disciples heard about it and hustled Saul out of town using the deception of letting him down in a basket on the outside of the city through a hole in the city wall. The Jews were watching the city gates for Saul and missed him completely.
Now a few questions.
Why was Barnabas so confident that Saul was "safe", especially when all the other disciples in the city still considered him the disciple-killer?
How did the Damascan disciples know about the Jews' plot to kill Saul?
How did they get themselves together to sneak him out through the city walls? Did someone make an announcement "in church"? (And risk telling their enemies who might he there?) Barnabas was more than 130 miles away in Jerusalem. How did word about Saul travel so quickly and so far to him?
I believe the answer is: Networking!
That's my term for this. I didn't invent it, of course. But networking is highly effective and successful. It has been proven over and over in many generations as an invaluable method of reaching others.
Networking is the interconnection and intercommunication of separate elements in scattered places.
In the text, the answer is not spelled out in detail, butt I believe there are some clues pointing to this idea.
As a matter of fact, I read some time ag(o that you are no more than five people away from knowing any other person in the United States! At first that's a little hard to comprehend, isn't it? That means that out of more than 200-hundred-million people, you can pick out any person at random in any city in the Country. and the odds are almost 100% that you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows that person.
Haven't you met total strangers who frequently know someone you know? Haven't you been in a strange city and met someone who knows a close friend of yours. Or knows a relative of yours? Or knows your next door neighbor? It's happened to me many times.
Have you ever called a relative or friend across the country, and during the conversation they told you a joke you heard just yesterday in your own town? How did the joke get across the country so quickly?
The answer is networking. Knowing someone who knows someone who. . .
I believe that someone in Damascus knew someone who knew someone in Jerusalem who knew Barnabas who told him about Saul, the disciple-killer turned disciple. News like that travels fast we say. That's a demonstration of networking.
Before the modern days of the Women's Liberation Movement, there was a pretty good old joke that the three most effective ways to spread news were: Telephone, Telegraph and Tell-A-Woman. It seems to me that the basic principle is still true, except that we probably should have originally substituted "Tell-A-Person."
Have you ever thought about how important networking was to the early Christians?
Today, I guess some of us haven't practiced it very much. Has the substitute for networking become the Real (or some imitation version of the) Yellow Pages?
Does this sound familiar? You come into a town on Saturday night and check into a motel. You wake up early on Sunday morning and consult the Yellow Pages for a church you would like to attend. If their meeting times are not in the Yellow Pages, then you call the building or the preacher's house to determine the time and some directions to the building. You might also inquire if there is a group meeting closer to your motel.
Or, before you leave home on your trip, you consult one of the brother-ship papers with which you generally agree. You check the advertisements in the back of the paper for a church that generally agrees with the viewpoints of the editor (else their ad wouldn't be there, would it?). You call that number on Sunday morning or late Saturday night and get directions.
Or, you purchase a "One True Church Directory" from the Bookstore run by the religious paper with which you agree. You search through the Directory as you drive down the highway to the distant town.
When all of that fails, you drive around town on Sunday morning, reading the signs outside of buildings for one with the right name and a starting time that has not already passed. You may be a little uneasy, hoping you do not end up with a group that takes the wrong side of the "instrument" question or the "orphan home" question or the "number of cups" question or the "located preacher" question or the...
How could the early disciples ever have possibly gotten along without the Yellow Pages (Real or Otherwise)? Without religious papers with church ads? Without Directories of Churches? Without signs in front of buildings? Without buildings to put signs in front of?.
They talked with each other. They spent time with each other They wrote letters to each other and to groups of disciples in other cities. They stimulated one another to love and doing good. When a stranger came through town, they inquired about other disciples where the stranger had been. They shared news and information about the health and spiritual well-being of saints that they knew. They even sent messengers to find out about how Christians were faring in other cities.
What a concept!
If I had lived in Jerusalem back then and had been planning a trip to Rome, I probably would have inquired about how to locate other disciples in Rome before I left. Perhaps I would even have asked what Romans do, so that when in Rome, I could "do as the Romans do." I might have written a letter and sent it ahead of me to advise someone that I was coming and what my purpose was. It would not have been unusual for a group of them to meet me outside of town and to escort me into the city to the home of another disciple where they planned for me to stay. They did that for Paul, why not for each other?
Not only did it help to spread Jesus' way of life around all over the world, networking is a very good idea for today.
If you've ever known anyone who was successful selling Amway Products, Km, Tupperware, Mary Kaye Cosmetics, or anything else person-to-person then you know someone who knows the value of networking. All of those businesses are built on the principle of someone knowing someone and putting people in contact with people. In fact, every successful business that I can think of is built on that same principle.
Jesus built up the number of his followers the same way. Two sterling examples are Jesus' earliest followers. When Andrew heard what John said about Jesus, he spent a few hours talking with the Lord, then wasted no time finding his brother, Peter, to tell him he had found the Messiah. Phillip, from the hometown of Andrew and Peter, saw' Jesus and, without any apparent hesitation, went to find Nathanael to tell him the news.
That's networking, finding someone you know and telling them the Good News.
It seems to me that the early disciples worked at making networking work. That's also what we need today. Do you have a friend in South Florida who is seeking Truth, untainted by men's traditions? So are we. Get us in touch with each other. Do you have a relative in some other part of the country who is alone and in need of someone to care? Contact a disciple of Jesus in that area and get them in contact with each other. Failing that, ask other Christians in your area who they know in the distant city. Odds are that you will not need to ask more than two or three people before you find someone who knows someone where you need them to be.
There are people all across the United States some are in organized churches, some are not who want to be in touch with others who share their attitude and objective of searching humbly for truth. Are you one of them? Do you know someone who is?
Because many have expressed this need, we have begun an effort to get seekers in touch with each other. That's networking. Not only did networking cause the early disciples to grow in numbers, the individuals themselves grew rapidly in spiritual strength, wisdom and knowledge by leaning on, learning from and sharing with others of similar attitude. I believe that was not some kind of special, miraculous case. I believe that networking works every time.
In no way is this an effort to organize an organization. That's not the purpose and it will not be the result. We don't need any religious organizations. The first disciples didn't. Why should we?
Generally, we have been so tradition-bound that we are not able to see how simple things were during New Testament times. That is how simple things should be in our times. This effort at networking is a simple, reasoned response from a spiritual example to a need expressed by many to meet others who seek our Lord from a sincere, humble heart.
Let me encourage you to be in close touch and fellowship with others you find in your town with whom you can study and examine the scriptures. If you can find none, write to Charles Holt at this paper's address, or to me at the address at the end of this column.
It seems to me that networking works. It worked for Jesus and his early followers. It will work for you and me. The early disciples were growing by geometric proportions. We are too!
Let us hear from you today!