It’s become very fashionable to use the language of “disciples” and “discipleship” to encourage commitment. I think it was David Watson (God be good to him) who really got the trend going.
And I’ve got nothing against it as one term among others. Well, I should think not, I hear an imaginary interlocutor (possibly you, dear reader) mutter. How could anyone object to such a biblical term?
I don’t. What I do object to is the seeming assumption it is a better term than any other for real Christians. You see, it’s one of the often uncommented-on aspects of the language that it’s not used in the New Testament outside of the gospels and Acts. Paul doesn’t say “disciple” even once.
Perhaps – just perhaps – it was too attached to the idea of an immediate personal following, a class, a school, of a particular teacher easily to make the transition from those who followed Jesus in the flesh to a more generic use. Perhaps it was too clearly about being “a learner”, “a pupil” or “a student” to work as a more generic term for Christians in all contexts.
Whatever the reason, that absence of the word from the letters should at least give us pause in using it as anything more than one useful term among others. I’m all for emphasising life-long learning as a Christian calling, I’m not even averse to making people think by speaking of guru Jesus.
I just think there are more ways to think and speak about being a Christian, many of which may be just as valuable.