It is pretty common in the professional disciplines of art, music, architecture, literature, or theology, to refer to those who strongly identify with a particular approach to their craft as disciples – disciples of the one they consider to be the pioneer or creator of this revered style, approach, method or belief system. Some examples might be Claude Monet and Impressionism (art), Mozart and Classical style (music), Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School (architecture), Samuel Beckett and Theatre of the Absurd, and Karl Barth and Neo-orthodox theology.
a disciple seeks to be like their teacher
What characterizes a disciple is not that they merely agree with or hold in high esteem, the methods and philosophy of their teacher. Rather, they identify on a very deep level, with the truth and integrity of their teacher’s approach – so much so that they seek to be like their teacher. They don’t simply learn their teacher’s wisdom. They attempt to adopt the values and core beliefs of the one they follow and they seek the same outcomes that they believe their teacher was seeking.
So whose disciple are you?
Given the context in which you are reading this piece, you are likely to respond, “Jesus Christ’s disciple.” However on what do you base that claim? What is it that has attracted you to such a degree that you are willing to be known publicly as a disciple of Jesus Christ? How did you come to “know” Jesus?
This is not a new challenge! From the very first Christian believers, people have been wrestling with the question of “How do we know who Jesus is?” Part of the problem is that language and cultural concepts continue to evolve. For some people today, the description of Christ in the Creeds, while glorious and truthful, is not particularly helpful – being built on the foundation of 4th century Greek philosophy. With the rise of Western liberal thinking, in the movement often referred to as Modernism, the texts of the Bible came under many types of scientifically-styled “criticism” – whether literary or historical. This led to the quest for the “historical Jesus” which has ultimately not led us to any clearer picture.
The “problem” (if it should be referred to as such) is that all we really have to go on to come to know the kind of person Jesus was, and is, are the Scriptural texts themselves – particularly the four Gospels. And we have almost two thousand years of interpretation of those texts by the Christian community – the group that claims to know Jesus best. These are his disciples because they identify on a very deep level, with the truth and integrity of their teacher – his values, core beliefs, and most importantly what he declared God was doing for them through Jesus Christ.
The thing that has set Jesus’ disciples apart from others who simply learn about him, is the conviction that in some strange and wonderful way, Jesus has used his humanity to link our humanity to God so that we literally share in God’s life, love and power.
The thing that has set Jesus’ disciples apart from others who simply learn about him, is the conviction that in some strange and wonderful way, Jesus has used his humanity to link our humanity to God so that we literally share in God’s life, love and power. They have come to know that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are all part of God’s loving act toward the world God created. Even more so, they believe that God has empowered them to continue to be part of that act – to actually be agents of God bringing about God’s transformation of this world to become a better place.
God has empowered Jesus’ disciples to be agents of God bringing about God’s transformation of this world to become a better place.
Therefore – what is Christian discipleship? It is people growing in their sense of being loved by, and loving God as encountered in the Person of Jesus Christ; and responding by offering themselves to God and God’s world. They do this through coming to know Jesus more deeply, and ordering their lives around this relationship, in community with all of Jesus’ disciples.
This is the first in a series of four articles.
Read more from this Rupert’s Land series: Discipleship
by Rt Rev Donald Phillips, Bishop of Rupert’s Land
Read more on discipleship:
Discipleship and Mission