Christianity has either been well received by the world or very poorly. However, what does it mean to be a “Christian”? The word “Christian” derives from the Latin word “Christus” meaning “Christ” which became “Christianus” meaning “Christian” or “a follower of Christ”. Christ as we know is our Lord and Saviour, our Messiah which simply means in Hebrew “The anointed one”. Essentially, being a Christian simply means following Jesus’ ways and teachings. In the Acts of The Apostles, people who were followers of Jesus were called followers of “The Way”. It is only later in the acts that Jesus’ followers were called Christians. After more than 2000 years, Christianity is now seen as a monotheist religion with more than 45000 denominations. With the number of denominations, it could be confusing to know where we truly belong, what we truly believe, and how we should live our lives as followers of Christ. Dave Tomlinson, St Luke’s church Vicar, In Holloway, North London wrote a book to make a difference between legalism, religion and simply being a loving follower of Christ. Love is the central theme of his book which tackles delicate issues such as how to show love to the LGBTQ+ community, how to throw away our religious judgments, or how to interpret the bible when we find ‘contradictions’. This book is simply about loving our neighbours like ourselves. It is enriched by stories and testimonies of real people which helps the reader to open his/her mind to a world that needs the love of God more than ever before.
In this blog post, we will explore 3 amazing ways we can become less religious and better Christ’s followers.
Faith vs Religion
Tomlinson draws a clear line between faith and religion. Faith is about believing in God without putting Him in a box and religion is about following sets of precepts without at times attempting to understand them. Religion lacks heart and understanding, when faith requires our whole heart and a thirst for knowledge. He also adds that God is not a Christian a Jew or a Muslim, God is God. However, in his life of faith, God has been revealed to Tomlinson through Christ as he believes Him to be the exact reflection of God. This is why Tomlinson calls himself a Christian as he believes Christ reflects the God he loves and believes in. It encourages us to reflect on the real reasons why we call ourselves Christian. This book is perfect for believers and non-believers alike. Also, for people who recently decided to embrace Jesus’ teaching or those who have been in the faith for long and need a rekindling. Tomlinson also explains that being bad at religion is what causes people to be more open to faith and believing in God, rather than fitting into a category of a “perfect” Christian. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:1 “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal”. This is the perfect image of religion when faith is fed by love. Similar to being a good Samaritan versus being a pharisee or a teacher of the law. Our Faith and our relationship with God is what will reflect Christ to our world and will then bring people to embrace God to find the Grace they need to navigate their everyday lives.
Heaven is Here
Jesus said in Luke 17:20-21 “(…)The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say “here it is”, “There it is” because the Kingdom of God is in your midst”. This is what Tomlinson tries to explain in the middle of his book. Heaven is not only a place we will go to when we die, heaven is here and now. Every day we can taste heaven as David says “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in His temple.” David only tells us here that if we keep our eyes on the Lord it will be as if we are living in his heavenly dwelling daily. Tomlinson, tells us that this daily heaven is simply enjoying what we love the most. His piece of heaven on earth is going to a little British cottage during the autumn and enjoying a good conversation around the fire with friends and family. What is your piece of heaven on earth? What brings you joy? What makes you sigh with contentment and declare “This is just like heaven”, think about it and bring it into your daily life. I love this quote from John Milton “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world”. It is clearly about seeing life through God’s lens which will create this attitude of gratitude in us and will allow us to see pieces of heaven in our everyday lives.
Lastly, in the final chapters of his book, Tomlinson tells us to become who we were born to be. He gives his readers a fourfold recipe to live a meaningful life “self worth – learning to love myself, personal authenticity – learning to be myself, relationships – learning to give and receive love, vocation – learning to contribute to the world.”. These four lifelong lessons are possibly what Tomlinson describes as our purpose in life. Developing these will help us to relate to the world effectively and to live a fulfilled life with the ever-needed and wanted help of the Holy Spirit. We know that every human identity comes from our Creator and if we want to flow within who we are, we have to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Art cannot be known and understood by itself, it comes from the heart of its creator, otherwise it becomes an interpretation. We are art, truly God’s masterpiece, and thus every one of us, so how can we truly know ourselves without the God who made us? Tomlinson insists on developing a habit of prayer and communion with God, daily seeking a time with our creator. This is how we can get to know our Creator and also get to know ourselves.
In conclusion, “How to be a bad Christian” is about being a good human and being bad at religion, dogmas, and ideologies imposed by our forefathers. It is about seeking God for ourselves and developing a genuine love for who He is, who He made us to be, and thus for people in our paths. It is about loving life to the fullest and not only waiting for heaven to come or to go home. It is about the real, tangible, infallible love of God that we owe to reflect in our daily lives, in all we produce, in our words, our attitudes, our reasoning, and our thinking. “How to be a bad Christian” is about being a better follower of Christ. Order your copy here.
Words by Gassy Traore