My church says that the proper term for a true Christian is "disciple," since this is the word that appears hundreds of times in the New Testament. Why don't I find the term in any of the letters, only in the Gospels and Acts?

Good question. It is clear enough from the first five books of the New Testament that followers of Jesus are to be disciples. Disciples means students. The word emphasizes that we are always learning, never perfect, in a constant state of training in the able hands of our Master. But Christians are never called disciples in the letters or Revelation. Rather, they are called "brothers and sisters," "saints," even "friends," to name a few of the many terms which designate a Christian. Why is this? I suggest that the term we favor probably tells us more about our own theology than about the doctrine of the scriptures.

To illustrate, if someone only used the term "brother," spiritual family relationships probably mean a lot to him. And if he avoids the term disciple, perhaps the commitment of following Christ troubles him. (Maybe not.) If another person stresses that we are called to be saints, his focus is on the holiness to which we are called, more than sheer busyness, commitment, or activity. But then maybe he is not tied in to the fellowship, especially if he feels uncomfortable calling someone "brother." Does the New Testament tell us to use only one word to designate a follower of Christ? Certainly not. It would probably be safest to use the whole range of appellations: brother, Christian, saint, disciple, friend, etc.

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