Apostle vs. Disciple

We often conflate the words apostle and disciple, assuming that one who becomes a disciple – of Jesus, say – is automatically an apostle as well. In fact, the twelve disciples are often referred to as the twelve apostles. Yet, in fact, they were disciples first and then became apostles. And the transition from one to the other is not automatic. When it comes apostle vs. disciple, there are a few different ways to think about it.

First, some definitions. An apostle is a person who is sent on a special mission, usually of a spiritual nature. Early Christian missionaries – and contemporary missionaries, too – are examples of apostles. A disciple is a follower of a teacher or a school or organization. Jesus’ early followers were certainly disciples because they beheld Jesus as their teacher. They later became apostles because – according to scripture – Jesus sent them abroad to carry his message.

Can one be an apostle without being a beloved disciple?

On the one hand, it’s a simple game of semantics. If you’re a leader with a message, then you simply adopt as your mission the need to share that message. Jesus, who was willing to share what he learned about the experience of oneness with God, might be considered the original apostle.

Semantics aside, I think the two phrases are useful because the one we identify with can help illuminate our spiritual path and make clearer the specific form that our function of forgiveness will take. A Course in Miracles posits Jesus as an older brother of sorts – one who merits respect and affection but not awe. We are not specifically identified as his followers so much as collaborators with one who has gone a little further than we have. The relationship feels less linear and more holistic.

I’m not sure that an ACIM disciple makes a lot of sense.

But we are called to be apostles in the sense that we are “only here to help.” Our function is forgiveness, the means by which the atonement – which ends our separation from God – is made clear to everyone. We are apostles in every moment, all the time. As the course points out, we are always teaching and the lesson we teach is always testimony to the “friend” that we are listening to and working alongside.

I don’t think that getting hung up on the play of words is necessarily fruitful – though as a writer I frequently indulge in just that. But I do think it is good to bring our identity, and the specific form our function takes here in the dream, to the attention of God. Are you an apostle or a disciple? Answering that question can help clarify our spiritual direction and enable us to be better teachers of God’s love.

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