An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Disciple, Discipleship

A follower or pupil of a great master. A disciple is a learner who follows a movement or teacher and helps to spread the master's teaching. The term is used in various senses and contexts in the NT to indicate the followers of Jesus. Although it is used at times relative to the Twelve, it is more frequently used as a general term for the first followers of Jesus. Lk 14:27 (NRSV) records Jesus' statement that “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” The term is also used in Acts to describe those who were Christian believers after Jesus' death and resurrection. At Antioch the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The term “Christian” came to be the usual term for a Christian believer. The term “disciple” does not appear in the epistles. However, the concept of discipleship (being a Christian disciple) continues to be an important part of the Christian life. For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) considered discipleship in Die Nachfolge, or The Cost of Discipleship (1937, trans. by Reginald H. Fuller, 1948). Bonhoeffer urged that grace without discipleship is “cheap grace,” and that faith must be expressed in obedience.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.